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It’s full speed ahead for Les Thomas as netball goes from strength to strength in Gloucestershire

All Areas > Sport > Netball

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Tuesday, 25th September 2018, 09:00

Gloucestershire Netball official Lesley Thomas with her 900cc motorbike Gloucestershire Netball official Lesley Thomas with her 900cc motorbike

“Interesting, very interesting!”

Those were the words used by top football commentator of yesteryear Barry Davies when describing then Derby striker Francis Lee playing against his former club Manchester City in the mid-70s.

He used the word “interesting” as Lee, running at full pace, prepared to unleash a shot from outside the penalty area and then screamed “very interesting” as the ball flew towards the back of the net.

‘Interesting, very interesting’ are three words that can be used to describe Les Thomas, the secretary of Gloucestershire Netball and a former chairman for some 14 years.

Why? Because there can’t be too many netball officials around the country – or even across the globe for that matter – who also ride a 900cc motorbike.

Les is 65 and netball and motorbikes have been two of the big passions in her life for a good many decades.

Born and raised in West Bromwich, it was netball that first grabbed her attention although not by much because she had her first bike at the age of 16.

“It was a 125cc scooter,” she said. “It gave me my independence. I’ve always liked being on two wheels.”

And it’s still very much the case today as she will happily go out for a ride around the Cotswolds or go down to Bristol on her 900cc bike although these days there is one essential requirement. “The weather needs to be nice,” she said.

She started playing netball at junior school but admits if she’d been born half a century or so later she’d probably never have got involved in the sport.

“I’d have loved to have been able to play football,” she said, “but in those days girls just didn’t play football, it wasn’t possible. Boys played football and girls played netball.

“I’m a West Bromwich Albion fan and some of my earliest memories are of my dad taking me to watch them play.”

She still looks out for their results today and since moving to this area has occasionally watched Cheltenham Town play.

Work brought her to Cheltenham – she was a research scientist for many years at The Coal Research Establishment in Stoke Orchard, retiring only recently.

And for many years she played netball in the area. “I used to play for Cheltenham Civil Service,” said Les, who lives in Cheltenham with her husband Mark. “Then they became Challengers, we were reasonably strong.”

Les played in defence and was good enough to play for the county for one season. “That was the highest I ever got to,” she added modestly.

But as well as talent she had staying power as well, continuing to play until she was 50 by which time she had already got involved on the administrative side.

She gave up the role of chairman only two years ago – Sue Bailey now holds that position – but her work these days as secretary certainly keeps her fully occupied.

As well as being heavily involved in running the adult and junior leagues in the county she is also involved in regional netball which is the next step up from the county.

“These days I’m time rich but I don’t know how I found time to do it when I was working,” she chuckled. “It can take quite a bit of time.”

So does her hubby get involved?

“No,” she laughed. “He takes a very back seat in that, he doesn’t get involved. He’s a netball widow!

“He used to play squash but now plays racketball at East Glos.”

They are two very good sports of course but for Les, who still umpires, netball is very much number one.

Her son James, who lives in Cheltenham, is a Netball Superleague umpire – “He got involved mainly because I used to drag him to matches when he was younger,” she laughed – and she is delighted with the way the game has developed since the turn of the century.

“The whole landscape of netball has changed dramatically over the last 10 to 15 years,” she said. “You can watch netball on TV and that’s a sentence I never thought I’d be able to say.

“When England won gold at the Commonwealth Games that was just brilliant.”

Clearly she’s a very big fan as well as a very good administrator and last year she became a player again – albeit at a slightly slower pace.

“I started playing walking netball,” she said. “It’s a great idea. I’m playing against people who I used to play against years ago. We’d all stopped playing and now we’re playing again.

“It’s a great social thing and such a laugh although it can be competitive – they have walking netball festivals.”

Les played much of her walking netball at Bentham but unfortunately her passion for two wheels cut short her ‘comeback’.

“I’ve got a 125cc scooter as well as a 900cc motorbike,” she said, “but I fell off the 125 and broke my hand.”

Les is hoping to play again this season but whether she does or she doesn’t, she will still be heavily involved in the sport.

And it’s a sport that she wants more and more girls to take up. There are already some 650 adults affiliated to the league structure in the county and around 900 juniors and that doesn’t take account of all the social netball players.

But Les would like more. “It’s not just for health reasons, there’s a great social side to it,” she said. “It develops skills you need in life. There’s nothing better than playing in a team and it provides you with friendships for life.”

Well said, Les. In fact, very interesting!

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Lesley Thomas

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