Sir George Alan Thomas, the 7th Baronet, was a British badminton player. During his badminton career, he was a 21-time All-England badminton champion, where the Thomas Cup, badminton’s World Men’s Team Championships cup, was named after him. He was also very active in other sports, where his non-badminton accolades include All-England tennis men’s doubles semi-finalist and two-time English chess champion.
Born on 14 June 1881 in Istanbul, Turkey, Thomas was one of 3 siblings. He and his two sisters lived most of their lives in Godalming and London. Both of his parents were wealthy members of the British Empire aristocracy that existed back in the day. When he was a young boy, Thomas never denied his background as a member of the elite society, but never flaunted it either.
As he grew older, many became aware that his shy personality hid great talent and intellect. Despite his capabilities and confidence in most things he undertook, Thomas was a person full of humility and honesty. His mother, Lady Edith Thomas, won one of the first women’s chess tournaments in 1895 when it was held in Hastings. She ultimately passed on her knowledge to her son.
Thomas began his career in badminton when he started training at the Southsea Club. In just three years, he reached the All-England semi-finals in 1900, where he competed every year for 28 years, with the exception of his four-year absence during World War I.
Thomas played in the first international badminton match in January 1903 between England and Ireland, held in Dublin. His training and past experiences proved to be fruitful when he and Ethel Thomson won the All-England mixed doubles. For the next 26 years, Thomas would represent England, where he amassed a total of 29 international caps.
From this initial triumph, he was able to build towards a rewarding career, where he followed up with another win in mixed doubles in 1906, again with Thomson. This was the time when he truly established his name as a star and achieved the first of his nine men’s doubles titles, four of which he won with Dr. Henry Norman Marrett. He would go on to dominate the championships around Scotland, Ireland, and France, where he won numerous titles before he was called to serve during the First World War.
Apart from concentrating his efforts on badminton and contributing to the sport as a player, Thomas also edited the Badminton Gazette between 1907 and 1912. He served as the publication’s joint editor, along with Lavinia Radeglia, between the years 1913 to 1915. The experience he gained here would later lead him to write various additions to his book, “The Art of Badminton.”
Hiatus and War Time
When World War I began on July 28, 1914, Thomas went on a hiatus from his badminton career and served as a Lieutenant in the Hampshire Regiment. During this time, he marched for more than 240 miles through the Mesopotamian Desert, rejecting the offer to ride his horse and joining his troops on foot. On March 6th, 1918, the Cambridge Daily News reported that his father had died.
The 6th baronet of Yapton, Sir George Sidney Mead Thomas, was 72 years of age when he passed. As a result, his eldest son inherited the baronetcy as Sir George Thomas Bart, becoming the 7th Baronet of Yapton. In those days, baronets ranked above knights and below barons; it was a position of considerable honor.
When George’s mother, Lady Edith Margaret Thomas, died in 1920, he became deeply affected. His mother had supported him through both of his biggest careers: badminton and chess. She was also remembered to be fond of playing badminton with her son — she had a room prepared just for playing the sport. Nevertheless, Sir Thomas pressed through his grief and chose to continue a career in badminton rather than chess, in which he was just as exceptional.
Return to Badminton
Upon resuming his career at the All-England Open Badminton Championships, he was able to achieve even bigger results. Between the years 1920 to 1923, he would snag four successive singles titles and, with the help of Hazel Hogarth, three mixed doubles titles. This was followed by three men’s doubles crowns in 1921, 1924, and 1928 with Frank Hodge. Sir Thomas was 47 years of age when he won the last.
Additionally, Sir Thomas visited Canada in 1925 as part of the English team that promoted badminton on behalf of the Canadian Badminton Association which was formed in 1921. In the years that followed, he added more to his list of achievements, gaining six more titles in men’s doubles and four titles in mixed doubles. When both his singles and doubles titles are counted, George Alan Thomas is the most successful player to ever grace the All England Open Badminton Championships; he secured 21 titles during his career from 1906 to 1928.
However, if we take the entirety of his career into account, from his first year in 1900 to when he retired in 1929, Sir George Thomas has won a total of 78 national titles in the United Kingdom, 16 Scottish titles, 12 Irish titles, and 12 French titles. Moreover, he competed in 29 out of 30 English international matches, where he represented England and the United Kingdom throughout his career. When he reached 47 years of age, Sir Thomas retired from playing badminton but still participated as a spectator.
Life After Retirement
Even after he retired, Sir Thomas continued to work within the world of badminton and captained the English team that was sent to Canada on their second tour in 1930. A match took place in Toronto’s Granite Club where England won 7 to 2. He went on to lead badminton teams around Europe to fulfill his desire of making badminton an international sport. In 1934, he encouraged England’s Badminton Association to establish the International Badminton Federation.
He moved on to become the co-founder of the International Badminton Federation (now Badminton World Federation), where he also served as the president for 21 years from 1934 to 1955. During these years, he rewrote badminton laws, never missed meetings, and was frequently an umpire for major events. Additionally, from 1930 to 1950, he was the Vice President of The Badminton Association of England, as well as the President from 1950 to 1952.
In 1939, Sir Thomas was inspired by the Davis Cup in tennis and the World Cup in football, which gave him the idea to create the Thomas Cup. He contacted the Atkin Bros of London and asked to produce a gorgeous trophy that stood 28 inches high and 16 inches in width, at the cost of $40,000. The end product consisted of three parts, which were a pedestal, a bowl, and a lid where the figure of a badminton player rests.
Before becoming the president and founder of the Badminton World Federation, Sir Thomas had a spectacular career that spanned almost 30 years. To this day, no one has been able to surpass his record of 21 All-England titles. For many, the longevity of his reign is one of the biggest highlights of his career, along with winning his first men’s singles All-England title at 38 years of age.
Moreover, people were also fascinated with his career comeback after his four-year hiatus from the game. The death of his mother, as well as his old age, made it seem as though his life as a badminton player was over. But somehow, he was able to astonish everyone by winning more games and adding more titles to his already impressive collection.
But apart from his achievements in the court, Sir Thomas was a well-respected member of the badminton community, where he eventually became the founding president of the Badminton World Federation. While serving as the president, he organized an international competition for badminton players from various countries, which became known as the Thomas Cup or the World Men’s Team Championships.
The first tournament was originally supposed to be held from 1941 to 1942, but because of World War 2, it didn’t happen until 1948 to 1949. When it started, a total of 10 national teams participated, and Sir Thomas himself presented the trophy to the winning team from Malaysia. Throughout his life, George Alan Thomas was known for his famous quote: “The art of badminton is to deceive.”
Life Outside of Badminton
While he excelled mostly in badminton, Sir Thomas’ life wasn’t restricted to just that. In at least two other sports, he was able to achieve very high distinctions, which were tennis and chess. As a result, he became one of the few who was recognized as a triple international player. When it comes to chess, his reputation nearly matches his prowess at badminton, where he represented Britain in 1910 against America.
After his victory, he continued to be the top choice to represent his country and continued to serve as captain of their international teams until 1930. During 1923 and 1934, he won the British Chess Championships. He went on to play all over the world, and eventually became Vice President of the British Chess Federation. In one of his most famous appearances, Sir Thomas came to Scotland to play chess with 29 inmates inside one of the local prisons, where he won every match.
Lawn Tennis was another sport he was known for, where he represented England in four successive matches against Ireland between the years 1912 and 1920. He also played at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships starting from 1906 to 1926. His other accolades include reaching the men’s singles quarter-finals in 1911 and the men’s doubles semi-finals in 1912, where he played with the All-England Badminton Champion at the time, Albert Prebble.
Furthermore, he played with Hazel Hogarth in mixed doubles tennis whenever he had the opportunity. He was also known for other sporting events, such as inter-county hockey. He was also an accomplished equestrian. Truly, this man had a rich life in the field of sports and lived a full and long life.
Later Life and Death
Sir George Alan Thomas never married, so his hereditary baronetcy was never passed on and ended when he died. At 91 years old, Sir Thomas died on July 23, 1971, and was remembered and admired for his sportsmanship. In 1996, he was inducted as an Inaugural Member of the World Badminton Hall of Fame — Herbert Scheele, a fellow member, shared this quote about Sir Thomas: “He was firm, yet had that happy knack of putting his views into the heads of others.”
Sir Thomas was not famous or recognized because of his wealth and titles. It was his abundance of extraordinary qualities and his willingness to go beyond what was expected of him that made him who he was. He had something to offer beyond the number of badminton tournaments and championships that he won.
Apart from having one of the most rewarding careers in the sport, he was also a writer, a grandmaster, an athlete, an international figure, a soldier, and most of all, a gentleman. There was nothing more important in his life than the exemplary example he set for the future generations of badminton players. This made him more than a player — it made him human despite all the talent he had, and it made him a champion in many ways.
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