By Tom Prosser
Sorba Thomas will have one very special fan among the tens of thousands of voices trying to roar Wales a big step nearer the World Cup finals this weekend.
It’s the woman who has made it all possible – his mother.
The Huddersfield Town wing-back is in line for his third cap against Belarus on Saturday at the Cardiff City Stadium and then could add a fourth if he plays against Belgium three days later.
The two qualifiers are crucial to Wales’ hopes of finishing second in their group, but an extra incentive for Thomas is that his mum, Gail, will be in the crowd.
It’s down to her that the 22-year-old, who was born in London, earns Welsh qualification as she is from Newport.
This will be the first time the proud mum is there to watch her son in a red shirt after viewing his two previous caps on TV and Sorba says: “She said she was standing up for most of the away matches last month as she was so nervous and excited.
“She’s going to be at both of the upcoming games. It’s going to be really special for her as it will be the first Wales matches she’s been too.
From scaffolding on site to The Red Wall’s next cult hero 👷⚽https://t.co/d6GSSfzZb2
— Sport Wales (@sportwales) November 12, 2021
“My mum’s different to most mums. She likes to be in and amongst the crowd as she loves to feel the atmosphere.
“I think she had a massive shock when she came to Huddersfield to watch me play and she was in a corporate box and everything.
“Particularly, to be next to all the Wales fans, too, it will help her make even more memories.”
Thomas – who was born in London and previously on the books of West Ham as a youngster – has already proven that nationality and a sense of belonging can often be gained from parents or grandparents.
In his case, his mother’s enthusiasm for Wales and her son’s heritage sent him on a journey that resulted in him this week training with his idol, Gareth Bale.
The Wales captain was out injured when Sorba made his debut against the Czech Republic last month and also when he followed that up with a cap against Estonia.
“I was starstruck again when I first met Gareth Bale,” he admits.
“He’s a top top person and a top top player. We’ve had quite a few conversations already. I was asking him about his time playing with Ronaldo at Real Madrid.
8⃣ assists and counting…
— Sky Bet Championship (@SkyBetChamp) November 10, 2021
“I was also watching him in training and looking out for some things to add to my game.
“He’s a massive legend for the whole country and I aspire to be just like that.”
It has been a whirlwind start to the season for Thomas and he is now looking to create even more memories for Wales by scoring in front of the Red Wall.
A win over Belarus and a point against Belgium will guarantee Wales second place in their group and a potentially easier play-off tie than if they finish third.
“After making my debut last month, I am now even more hungry to achieve great things in the game.
“It’s the dream to score for Wales especially with my mum in the crowd.
“It would be a moment I would literally remember for the rest of my life.”
Thomas’s route to the international stage has been an unconventional one and he is now reaping the rewards of his perseverance.
He got released by West Ham as a teenager and started to fall out of love with the game.
🏴 Sorba Thomas is the most creative player in the Championship so far.
🔑 Joint Most Key Passes – 2.8 p/g
🔐 Most Big Chances Created – 12
🅰️ Most Assists – 8
22-years old and going to the top. 💫 pic.twitter.com/ttGM12oBVN
— Mozo Football (@MozoFootball) November 8, 2021
But after a spell in non-league at and working away from sport, he has now found his way back to the top.
“I had some hard days doing scaffolding, putting those poles up, and getting back on the horse was hard.
“I started a little Sunday League team for a few months and tried to find the love again.
“When I played again it was to try and get to the top and rub it in a few people’s faces – some who didn’t really believe in me back then.
“For me, it is a lot of fuel to burn.”
Thomas played nearly 100 games for Boreham Wood before agreeing a move to the Championship with Huddersfield – following the likes of Ashley Williams and Jamie Vardy out of non-league football.
“I look at their journeys as they became top players in the Premier League,” he says.
“You want to follow in their footsteps and create your own path.”
The next week is a big one for Wales as they aim to qualify for their first World Cup since 1958.
If Wales claim four points from these two matches, they will seal second place in the group and qualify for the play-offs in March.
Robert Page’s side don’t want to rely on their virtually assured Nations League play-off spot as they would be likely to play their decisive matches away from home.
“We know how important the next two games are,” explains Thomas.
“We’ve got to make our game in hand on the Czech Republic count by beating Belarus on Saturday.
“Everyone’s got their heads screwed on and we are ready to win and qualify for the World Cup.”