Interview: Kevin Thomson reveals plans for his new academy

Surprisingly for someone who made the difficult decision to retire aged just 31, Kevin Thomson has only one significant regret about his football career.

Kevin Thomson coaches kids at his new soccer school. Picture: Neil Hanna

It isn’t injury per se, more the timing of these injuries. His first serious knee setback came at first club Hibernian, “at a time when I genuinely felt I could go wherever I wanted. I was a left-sided midfielder, a bit rarer then than now”.

He fought back, securing a financially and career fulfilling move to Rangers. But another knee injury all but wiped out his second season at Ibrox. A leg break at Middlesbrough, initially undetected, obliterated his chances of making an impression in 
English football.

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But there’s some consolation to be gained from Thomson’s stoic acceptance his playing career is over after a surprise, three-match cameo with Tranent Juniors earlier this season. The timing, on this occasion, appears spot on.

Kevin Thomson played for Hibs last season but hung up his boots at the age of 31. Picture: SNS

Now 32, it means he’s able to devote his time and energy to an idea that he explains has been percolating for some time: The Kevin Thomson Academy. The name is picked out in red and silver lettering on the stylish logo stitched into his dark blue tracksuit: “Hibs fans keep asking me why is it not green?” Dark blue, he points out, “is more neutral”.

Has there even been a more timely moment to embark on improving the football skills of Scottish youngsters? With Scotland seemingly on the cusp of World Cup qualifying oblivion, another round of navel gazing is well underway.

Where are we going wrong?

Like so many, Thomson believes he can help provide an answer. Unlike most others, he is putting his reputation on the line by creating an eponymous academy where he will be attempting to put into practice what he has learned from managers of the calibre of Walter Smith and, yes, Gordon Strachan.

Kevin Thomson played for Hibs last season but hung up his boots at the age of 31. Picture: SNS

But it wouldn’t be Thomson if he didn’t feel he has his own ideas on the game. And why shouldn’t he? It isn’t so long ago that he was patrolling midfields. This time last year he was still playing in the Scottish top tier, with Dundee.

By the season’s end he’d helped Hibs, his boyhood heroes, win the Scottish Cup, albeit he was not included in the squad for the final itself.

But, armed with his A licence coaching badge, he had already begun working with the club’s under-15s, alongside Lee Makel. Now he is a football coach for hire, offering his services to clubs of any level, as well as individuals, from five years old upwards.

Refreshingly, he wants to concentrate on the basics, such as passing and controlling the ball. No one is too old, or too good, to be able to neglect such elementary skills.

He is offering personal sessions to professional players as well, with the super-dedicated Andy Murray’s success proving how willingness to work, to go above and beyond, is what separates the great from the good.

Thomson has already had numerous notes of interest, from former team-mates as well as others from a variety of senior clubs.

“I am stealing Tony Mowbray’s sessions, I am stealing Gordon Strachan’s sessions, stuff Walter has done, wee pockets from every big manager I worked under,” he explains. “But I like to think I am also making up drills myself, stuff I enjoyed as a player, maybe in a group session, but I take it and use it as a one-to-one, add something more to it.

“You could argue if no one’s doing it already is it because it is not very good? But there’s always scope to change things, think outside the box.

“I am overrun really,” he adds. “It’s great. It is just trying to fit everyone in. I am not just using my name and getting Tom, Dick or Harry to come and take the session. The session will be delivered by me.”

But he imagines he’ll turn to friends, old colleagues and football specialists further down the line. Former Hibs striker Derek Riordan is one.

“I marked Deeks’ card,” he says. “Deeks was one of the best natural finishers I played with. I would love in time for him to come and do a class if it was heavy with young attacking players, for example. I’d like to think I know lots of finishing drills myself but he could obviously demonstrate them better than I could!

“He is in a transition period,” adds Thomson. “He still wants to play and feels he can.”

Then there’s Thomson’s best friend in football, Celtic skipper Scott Brown. Might he join forces with Thomson at a later date and help grow the academy? Sounds like it’s a very real possibility.

“Imagine in three or four years’ time the Kevin Thomson Academy is as good as any academy in town,” ponders Thomson, who grew up in Peebles.

“Then Scott retires and we go to Glasgow, where we’ve played for both clubs, to the Borders, Fife. Scott is as good as anyone there’s been from Fife and I’d like to think, along with John Collins, I’ve flown the flag for the Borders.

“I’d like to do something that not a lot of Scottish players have done. It’s a challenge. I think that is what could be wrong with the system, not enough top players working with the lower ages.”

Thomson had hoped there might be a way in with Scotland via Strachan, who bought him at Middlesbrough. “I spoke to Gordon when I first retired. I asked him: ‘any jobs going for your boy?!’ He sent a lovely message to be fair. I spoke to him on phone and he told me I was always one of his favourite players to watch.

“He said I was the type of person [SFA performance director] Brian McClair should be using within the system. Within two weeks of speaking to Gordon of course Brian left! It was back to the drawing board.

“I was a wee bit gutted,” he adds. “When that fell through the next port of call was doing it myself, which is what I’m doing.”

But there’s something else to address: the end of Thomson’s own playing days. The last time we met, in July, he was preparing to prolong his career in the Scottish juniors, with second-tier side Tranent.

It was a left-field direction in which to go, as admirable as it was surprising. So what went wrong? “I gave it a try, it didn’t work out,” he says. The main issue was juggling games with media opportunities, something he hoped to explore – and since has.

When the first offer came in – to work with BT Sport at Dundee v Rangers – he had to decline, because he was expected to be on duty with Tranent. Their game was subsequently called off and a frustrated Thomson concluded it really was time to call it day. After one goal in two competitive games for Tranent, he is now free to accept television and radio offers.

“I hope that helps give the academy extra credibility, if parents see you on the telly,” he says. “You are still a recognisable figure. The recognisable bit soon leaves you, I realise that.

“But if I build up my academy and it is on the tips of people’s tongues then hopefully the name Kevin Thomson will live for a wee bit longer than simply finishing and being forgotten about.”

The Kevin Thomson Academy offers private tuition for players of all ages and abilities. Contact [email protected] or on Twitter @KThomsonAcademy