The measure of the extraordinary qualities of this man goes far
beyond the number of badminton championships and tournaments that he won
during one of the longest playing careers of any athlete. He was a
gentleman, writer, administrator, benefactor, a doughty soldier, grand
master at chess and an athlete of note in several other sports.
Alan Thomas was born in Istanbul (Constantinople), Turkey, on 14 June
1881, presumably to parents who were both wealthy and members of the
aristocracy of the British Empire that graced that period of time. He
never denied his background yet never flaunted it. His shyness hid a
great intellect and, in spite of his competence in almost everything
that he undertook, he was a person of wonderful modesty and humility.
began his badminton career at the Southsea Club, the early home club of
Colonel Dolby, and within three months was in the semi-finals of the
All-England in 1900. He was to compete every year for the next 28 except
for the four-year period of the First World War.
playing career he won 78 national titles in the United Kingdom and a
further 12 French titles; he also competed in 29 out of 30 English
internationals, winning 50 matches in the process.
successes at the All-England did not begin until 1903 when he won the
mixed doubles, partnered by the early ladies 'great', Ethel Thomson. He
really started to make his name in 1906 when he again won the mixed with
Thomson and achieved the first of nine men's doubles titles; this was
also the first of four he was to win with Dr H N Marrett.
year Thomas launched his attack on other titles, with victories in the
singles, men's and mixed doubles in Scotland. He was to dominate the
championship scene in Ireland and France until the outbreak of the First
World War. By that time he had won 90 titles in all, including 15
Scottish, 14 Irish, 12 French and 10 All-England.
During the early part of his career he edited The Badminton Gazette from 1907-12 and was joint-editor with Lavinia Radeglia from 1913-15. Later he was to write several editions of The Art of Badminton.
the First World War he served as an army officer and in undaunting
fashion marched with his troops across more than 300 kilometres of the
Mesopotamian desert. It was also said that he rejected the opportunity
to ride his horse, choosing rather to 'footslog' with his troops.
It was after the -war that he inherited a baronetcy and became Sir George Thomas Bart.
the pre-war All-England competitions Thomas had never beaten Frank
Chesterton. Dr H N Marrett or the Swiss Comte Sautter de Beauregaard
(Guy Sautter), They were outstanding players and on the resumption of
the All-England in 1920 it must have appeared to all that, at nearly 39
years of age, George Thomas's life as a badminton athlete was over.
However the redoubtable Sir George astounded England by winning the first of four successive
All-England singles titles and three successive mixed doubles titles
with Hazel Hogarth (he had previously won with Hogarth in 1914). He was
to win three more men's doubles with Frank Hodge in 1921, 1924 and 1928,
the last at age 47.
In those final years of competition he added
another 16 Scottish and 12 Irish titles - the last a men's doubles in
1929 with Major Johnnie McCallum, later an IBF President and Life
Sir George was a stickler for punctuality, but there was
an occasion in Scotland when he was challenged to chess by 29 inmates of
a local gaol. After easily vanquishing 28 of them, he was delayed by
the 29th, a convicted 'con-man'. This breach of punctuality was
overlooked by the championship organisers.
Sir George, a Grand
Master and twice English Chess champion, was described by Pat Davis as
"invincible at ping-pong" (table tennis). He also reached the
semi-finals of the All-England Tennis Men's Doubles, played inter-county
hockey and was an accomplished equestrian.
He took teams to
Canada and Europe and this increased his desire for badminton to be an
international sport. To this end he encouraged The Badminton Association
to establish the International Badminton Federation and this was done
in 1934. As President for 21 years, he never missed a meeting, re-wrote
the laws and was a frequent umpire at major events. He was
Vice-President of the Badminton Association of England from 1930-50 and
its President from 1950-52.
It was George Thomas who proposed the
Men's World Team Championship and in 1939 gave a magnificent cup for
this, the oldest of the IBF's three prestigious team events. The Thomas
Cup was first played in 1948-9 in Preston, England and Sir George was
there to make the presentation to the Malaya team which beat Denmark
He was a truly remarkable man with an impeccable record on
and off the court. He was never known to quibble an umpire's decision
and even 'stood down' from the BA Selection Committee Chairmanship when
his position in the England team was under challenge.
visible aspect of Sir George’s legacy is the Thomas Cup for the World
Men’s Team Championships which is hosted every second year (even years).
The IBF received the Thomas Cup from Sir George in 1939. Engraved on the front of the cup are the words 'The
International Badminton Championship Challenge Cup presented to the
International Badminton Federation by Sir. George Thomas, Bart., 1939". However, owing to the intervention of World War II it was not until 1948 that the first Championships could be staged.
Sir George Alan Thomas died on 23 July 1972 - a legend as a player, administrator and gentleman.
-- By William Kings