Delme Thomas is one of those giants of Welsh rugby for whom a Christian name is enough – but in his brand-new book he reveals how he was laid low by retirement from the game.
Delme: The Autobiography (Y Lolfa) tells the story of his nervous breakdown after giving up the game he loved and which had given him so much through three British and Irish Lions tours, 22 Wales caps and of course captaining his beloved Llanelli to that victory over the All Blacks.
Much of Delme’s story is well known, but his autobiography reveals the man away from the game as well as giving the inside track on top rugby in the 60’s and 70’s, with such characters as Carwyn James, Phil Bennett, Barry John, Willie-John McBride and describing what it was like marking All Black legend Colin Meads.
“It may well be a cliché, but you did become a family,” he says of his life in rugby, before describing what it was like when he finished playing. “Leaving that family, in my case, Llanelli, proved to be a traumatic experience. It affected my health. It affected my whole personality. Something had been taken away and it left a huge gap in my life. I wasn’t ready for it, and it hit me really hard.
“I suffered a nervous breakdown. I was admitted to hospital and stayed there for weeks because my feelings had sunk so low. One thing that’s clear to me now, looking back at such a difficult period in my life, is the fact that I didn’t want to admit that I was in the state I was in. And I don’t mean that I just didn’t want to admit it to other people, I didn’t want to admit it to myself, either.
“When I ended up in hospital, I hated the fact that I’d been admitted there for such a reason – a mental one, not a physical one. Such an attitude, of course, soon turned out to be a part of the problem, which in turn made things even worse.”
Delme, written with Alun Gibbard, is a revealing portrait of one of the central characters of a great era in Welsh rugby – the image of a muddy and unbowed Thomas being carried from the Stradey Park pitch after that victory over the All Blacks is familiar to almost all Welsh rugby fans.
He tells the stories of his three Lions tours, when his first two roommates were Scotland’s Jim Telfer and Ireland’s Willie-John McBride, of his Wales career and especially his time with Llanelli, with typical modesty.
Delme also describes the village mentality and community strength in Wales that provided so much support, in his case growing up in Bancyfelin five miles outside Carmarthen. However the impact of giving up the game that gave him so much provides some powerful passages and a new insight on such a great character of the sport.
Delme’s book can be purchased here..