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Norman Carmichael had been especially looking forward to getting his Covid-19 jab because he knew it meant he could jump in the car and make the six-hour journey to Amarillo (Texas) to meet his old friend and team-mate Charles Thomas. Just one month earlier, he had received a phone call out of the blue telling him that the player presumed dead 40 years ago was actually still alive. And now he was finally going to meet him in person.
"The first thing we did was hug. It was a long hug because neither he nor me wanted it to end” said Carmichael, who became firm friends with Thomas when they played together for FC Barcelona from 1971 to 1974. “It was very emotional. I’ve waited 47 years for this.”
The first thing we did was hug. It was a long hug because neither he nor me wanted it to end“ Norman Carmichael
“47 years is a very long time. I was so sorry that he left us that way, so young. Seeing him again has been like a thousand Christmas gifts … When you have wanted something so long you are often a bit afraid that it won’t quite be the way you imagined it, but our reunion surpassed all my expectations. It went amazingly well. I’m so happy and excited. He has some health difficulties, but considering the life he’s had, he’s doing pretty well. He seems cheerful, talking well and clear, and very caring in the chat we had."
Six hours together
Carmichael spent two days in Amarillo, Wednesday and Thursday. "We spent a total of six hours together and spoke about a lot alone.” The nurses who went to such extraordinary lengths to put Thomas back in contact with his friends were also there for the reunion. "There were cameras too because a network is interested in making a documentary about Charles’ life. The people looking after him in the home have been awesome. They look after him nicely and are very caring. It’s not a sad place at all, and they’ve made him a room where they’ve stuck up pictures I sent of when he was a player and they’ve papered the walls.”
It’s not a sad place at all, and they’ve made him a room where they’ve stuck up pictures I sent of when he was a player and they’ve papered the walls“
“The first thing he said was that he couldn’t believe I’d gone all that way to see him. He was very grateful.”
They looked like Starsky and Hutch in their Barça days, one with an afro and the other with blond hair. “We spoke about how much we’ve changed. His son Matson had cut his hair and shaved his beard.”
Charles Thomas, at the official photo shoot for the 1971/72 season.
‘Mat’ is Charles youngest son. The older one, Carlos, is a truck driver and hasn’t got to see his father yet. "Charles hadn’t met his grandchildren, but I imagine he will do. They’re deciding what to do going forward. Matson lives in Houston and wants to be nearer to his father."
Life after injury
They were also able to talk about things that had not yet been answered. What happened to the player after an injury against Real Madrid in November 1974 put an end to his career and sent him on the downward spiral? His wife Linda, a remarkably attractive and intelligent ex-athlete, went back to the US after separating from Thomas, who was a changed person after the injury and went on loan to Manresa for a while in a failed attempt to become the player he had been before, with his astonishing jumping style.
"He said that when Linda went to the States with the kids, he stayed in Spain. He loved Spain but could see no future now he was injured, and returned to Texas, near to Houston. He got involved with some people doing illegal things, and was in Louisiana and Oklahoma, and his life went bad as he learned from them. He got into the drugs world and they taught him to get money in the street..."
Charles also explained how he’d lost both legs. "He then did dangerous jobs in the construction trade. He was doing roofs when some material fell. They had rusty nails in them and he trod on one and got a skin infection. The infection spread and they eventually had to amputate his legs a foot below the knee to stop the infection spreading upwards."
I am still trying to take in everything that’s happened these last few days“
“I was surprised at how optimistic he is, and he still has faith in God. He told me he has realised the world is like it is thanks to God. He has taken refuge in religion a lot, but he speaks about the world and the universe very intellectually, saying that this cannot all be coincidence, that it has to be someone’s plan. I was quite surprised to see he believes all this so strongly and by the way he explains it."
Carmichael, who was at Barça for nine years and is part of the team’s history, concludes by saying "I am still trying to take in everything that’s happened these last few days. How we met, what’s happening, memories of the past and present, it’s a strange mix that I’m still digesting … But despite all that’s happened, I still see my old friend. I still see Charles, a smart, loving and very decent man.”
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