It's over: Paul Thompson leaves Sheffield Steelers, dog tired of the abuse, the pressure and, most of all, the results

He looked like he'd aged 10 years in 10 games.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 1st October 2018, 4:09 pm
Updated Monday, 1st October 2018, 4:43 pm
Downcast and depressed: Thommo does what's right for him and his family
Downcast and depressed: Thommo does what's right for him and his family

Paul Thompson was sat opposite me, in a bathroom-cum-interview-room, his eyes sunken, his face ashen.

"I'm sick of it, Bob" he shared. "I'm f****** sick of it."

He certainly didn't carry the appearance of the coach of a team that had just BEATEN their arch rivals.

I didn't know it then, but in that bathroom, Thompson was recognising his career was going down the Sheffield Arena plughole.

Only minutes earlier, Sheffield Steelers had pipped Nottingham Panthers 3-2 in an exciting game and 7,000 fans were going home happy.

Well, most of them anyway.

I'm out of here: Thompson quits

For "Thommo" could do nothing right for a portion of the other orange clad followers.

They wanted him out of the club and were happy to express those thoughts with vigour - and sometimes spite - on social media and at the rink.

Gradually, the private rumblings of a few became more of a roar.

While Thompson had been unlucky in losing players he'd wanted to keep (Ben O'Connor, John Armstrong, Eric Neiley) he'd brought in players that failed to meet the standards of some of those he'd axed, said the fans.

What now for Sheffield Steelers new look team?

In that regard, they had a point.

The gap between Steelers and champions Cardiff Devils now looked like a chasm.

On Monday afternoon Thompson, who must have felt let down by some of the new players he'd put his trust in, finally showed how "sick of it" he was, by handing in his resignation.

It was accepted by the Steelers' high command, who are now looking for a replacement; Mark Matheson the assistant coach, filling in, during the interim.

Almost every day, over the last couple of weeks, The Star had made behind-the-scenes inquiries about Thompson's job security, given the poor series of results and the growing clamour for his head to roll.

At one point, I actually suggested to a club official that the possibility of a parting of the ways might be good for Thompson, himself, in the long-run.

After all, a former Sheffield coach, Dave Matsos, had recently suffered an apparent heart-attack on the bench and Thompson had lost the healthy glow he'd developed over the Summer months.

He looked genuinely ill and stressed by the pressure.

The only bright side was that he had not lost the dressing room - as some wrongly speculated. I don't know of one player who wanted him gone.

Nevertheless, gloom filled the skies over Sheffield's east end.

Owner Tony Smith dodged The Star's phone calls for the best part of two weeks.

His views had not been publicly aired, although it is fair to assume he'd been getting increasingly agitated about home form and the toxic environment on social media.

Dave Simms, Thompson's staunchest ally, was saying as late as Monday morning, that nothing radical was being planned by management.

Members of the press corps also took me to task for suggesting the coach looked "like a dead man walking."

But Thompson's eventual decision was that of a realist.

A coach can battle opposition teams. He can handle internal strife at his club. He can bite the bullet and spend long periods away from his loving family.

But the Brummie knew that you can only fight a war on so many fronts - and losing the support of the fans was always going to be a bridge too far.

Will Thommo pop up again at another ice hockey club?

Or like Gerad Adams, the man whose job he was given, will he start afresh in a job outside the sport?

It's too early to tell.

But while Thompson has paid the price for a Summer recruitment revolution that went wrong, he can walk away knowing nobody has won more than him in the domestic game.

No more sleepless nights. No more boos. No more moody bus rides home. No more intrusive press. No more twitter abuse.

Enjoy the peace, Paul.