SIR GEORGE THOMAS
The measure of the extraordinary qualities of this man goes far beyond the number of badminton championships and tournaments that he had won during one of the longest playing careers of any badminton player. He was a gentleman, writer, administrator, benefactor, a doughty soldier, grandmaster at chess, international tennis player and an athlete of note in several other sports.
George Alan Thomas was born in Istanbul, Turkey, on 14 June 1881, to parents who were both wealthy and members of the British Empire aristocracy 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 confidence in almost everything that he undertook, he was a person of wonderful modesty and humility.
He began his badminton career at the Southsea Club 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 years except for the five-year period of the First World War. During his 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 matches, winning 50 in the process, Sir George retired from international duties at the age of 48.
George Thomas’s 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 doubles with Ethel Thomson and achieved the first of nine men’s doubles titles; this was also the first of four he won with Dr. Henry Norman Marrett. He was to dominate the championship scene in Ireland, Scotland and France until the outbreak of the First World War.
During the early part of his career, he edited the Badminton Gazette from 1907-12 and was the joint editor with Lavinia Radeglia from 1913-15. Later he was to write several additions of his book The Art of Badminton.
In the First World War, he served as an army officer and in a daunting fashion marched with his troops across more than 240 miles (385 km) of Mesopotamian Desert. It was also said that he rejected the opportunity to ride his horse, choosing rather to footslog with his troops.
It was in 1918 on his father’s death he inherited the baronetcy and became Sir George Thomas Bart, the 7th Baronet of Yapton. A baronet is above a knight, but below a baron. It is a hereditary title and is passed down to the eldest son.
On the resumption of the All-England after the First World War in 1920, it must have appeared to all that at nearly 39 years of age Sir George Thomas’s life as a top badminton player was over. However, the redoubtable Sir George astonished everybody by winning the first of four successive All-England singles titles and three successive mixed doubles titles with Hazel Hogarth (he had previously one with Hogarth in 1914). He was to win three more men’s doubles with Frank Hodge in 1921, 1924 and 1928, the last at the age of 47. Sir George holds the record of the most All-England titles with 21 in total, 4 men’s singles, 9 men’s doubles and 8 mixed doubles.
Sir George Thomas chess grandmaster.
Sir George was a stickler for punctuality, but there was an occasion in Scotland when he was challenged to chess by 29 inmates of the local prison. After easily vanquishing 28 of them, he was delayed by the 29th, a convicted ‘con-man’. This breach of punctuality was overlooked by the Badminton Championship organisers.
Sir Georges’s sporting life was not restricted to badminton. He had achieved a very high distinction in at least two other sports, he was one of the very few who could claim to have been a triple international. At chess his reputation was nearly as great as at badminton, he first represented his country in 1910 in an international match against America, and thereafter continued to be one of the first choices to represent Britain, whose international teams he had captained continually until 1930. Twice, in 1923 and 1934, he won the British Chess Championships, and played all over the world and was Vice President of the British Chest Federation.
Lawn Tennis was his other great sport, in four successive matches, between 1912 and 1920 he represented England against Ireland. Sir George played at Wimbledon Tennis Championships from 1906 to 1926. In 1911 he reached the quarter-finals of the men’s singles and in 1912 he reached the semi-finals in the men’s doubles with the All-England Badminton Champion Albert Prebble, he also played mixed doubles tennis with his badminton partner Hazel Hogarth. Sir George also played inter-county hockey and was an accomplished equestrian.
Sir George Thomas International and Wimbledon tennis player
He took badminton 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 (England) to help establish the International Badminton Federation which was done in 1934. The Badminton Association had organised world badminton since it was formed in 1893. Sir George was the first President of the International Badminton Federation (now called Badminton World Federation – BWF) which he held for 21 years, he never missed a meeting, rewrote the badminton 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.
The Thomas Cup
It was Sir George Thomas who proposed the Men’s World Team Championships and in 1939 gave a magnificent presentation cup for this. The Thomas Cup was first played in 1948-49, the first final was played on 25th and 26th February 1949 at the Queens Hall, Preston, England and Sir George was there to make the presentation to the Malayan team which beat Denmark 8-1.
The triumphant Malayan team gathers around the Thomas Cup in 1949.
Left to right :- Ong Poh Lim, Law Teik Hock, Lim Chuan Geok (captain), Ooi Teik Hock, Yeo Teck Chye, Chan Leong and Teoh Seng Khoon.
Sir George Thomas was a truly remarkable man with an impeccable record on and off the court, he was never known to quibble over an umpire’s decision and even stood down from the Badminton Association Selection Committee chairmanship when his position in the England team was under challenge.
Sir George Alan Thomas died on 23 July 1972 at the age of 91- a legend as a player, administrator and gentlemen.