HANDS up if you knew Weymouth’s legendary striker Ben Thomson actually began life as a winger with Gillingham Town?

How about the lesser-known fact that Yeovil Town once turned down the opportunity to sign him?

Or maybe that when scouting Thomson’s then Frome Town teammate Mark Cooper in 2015, incumbent Weymouth boss Jason Matthews happened upon the striker he was looking for?

Well, these details all fit into the mystique of an immensely capable forward who perhaps never had the confidence in his powers to match his ability.

READ MORE: Mark Molesley leads tributes to Ben Thomson

Thomson started his senior pathway at Dorset side Gillingham as a teenager under former West Brom, Yeovil, Torquay and Gillingham (the bigger, Kent club) striker-turned-manager Ady Foster.

Being a goalscorer of such experience and quality, Foster knew a player of potential when he saw one.

And he figured out Thomson was better suited to being a frontman than on the wing.

“He would’ve been about 15 at the time,” Foster recalls to Echosport.

“I took over Gillingham and he was this young lad training with the reserves. I asked the chairman Dave Graham and I said: ‘Who’s the lad?’

“He said: ‘Nick’s his brother’, Nick Thomson who was slightly older and with the first team at Gillingham.

“I said: ‘Well, can we bring him over and have a look at him?’ That was it, he came in as a 15, 16-year-old lad and got into the first team at Gillingham straight away.

“He played on the left wing, very pacy, wiry, direct but you could see potentially he had something as a kid so I just pushed it with him.

“I worked with him and he played while I was at Gillingham for three seasons before I moved on and then I took him to Frome with me.”

At that time, in 2013, Foster was convinced of Thomson’s potential and immediately asked Graham’s permission to take him to Frome.

“I started playing him up front,” Foster explains.

“He’d matured, become a man, he was fitter, stronger, more powerful, so I decided to put him up front. He just blossomed and became such a good striker.”

With his prize asset now in his early twenties and showing real promise, Foster used his old connections at Yeovil to hold talks over a possible transfer for Thomson to the Glovers.

“I tried to get him over to Yeovil and they weren’t interested,” Foster continued.

“They weren’t interested to look at him, which was a bit of a shame. Some clubs have an issue, unless you’ve come from a (league) club, they don’t tend to look at players who made their name as lower-level players.

“There’s some really good talent around the lower levels. I said: ‘He’s quick, he’s raw, just take a look’ and at the time they weren’t interested.

“He would’ve been about 21 and it would’ve been a good time for him to go there.

“I just remember Charlie Austin. He came from Poole Town, another one who was offered to Yeovil years ago, and they wouldn’t pay the money.”

READ MORE: Legendary Weymouth striker Ben Thomson retires from football 

In the present day, Weymouth fans will know Thomson as a striker who gave his all for the club but one who also had a mischievous, humorous personality.

And, as Foster confirms, Thomson did not change for the worse despite working his way up the football pyramid.

“He’s a really nice lad, great to work with, and funny,” he continued.

“I keep in touch with him now, I messaged him not long ago. It’s always a shame when somebody has to retire.

“It’s one of those things. If he’d stayed fit longer when he was younger he probably would’ve made it as a professional in the Football League.

“He would’ve had a good chance, I think. I went to watch him a few times at Weymouth and he’d just beefed up.

“His arms, his chest, his body looked big. I would not want to be a defender playing against Ben Thomson because he’s so strong and powerful.

Dorset Echo: Ben Thomson bullies another defender, this time against Maidstone United, earlier this seasonBen Thomson bullies another defender, this time against Maidstone United, earlier this season (Image: MARK PROBIN)

“If he ran into you in training, he’s run with such pace and power. I’d hate to think about it. He was the perfect striker to bustle through, he was so quick as well.

“That’s why, at a young age, I could see this kid could go on to places. But again, he had a few bad injuries when he was young, he had knee operations and I don’t think that helped him.

“I always knew he could progress. It was nice to see that the talent he had fulfilled some sort of ambition to play at a really good level.

“The National League’s a tough level to play at, he could’ve played higher but injuries didn’t allow him to do that.”

Thomson spent nearly two years at Frome under Foster’s leadership before the Robins sacked the ex-Forest Green hitman just five games into the 2015/16 season.

For Weymouth, Matthews happened to be in the right place at the right time and, crucially, he had a good relationship with Foster.

Dorset Echo: Ben Thomson, right, playing for Weymouth against the mighty Chesterfield in the 2020/21 National League seasonBen Thomson, right, playing for Weymouth against the mighty Chesterfield in the 2020/21 National League season (Image: MARK PROBIN)

But, as Matthews explains, he was actually scouting Frome in order to sign Cooper. Securing Thomson was an unexpected bonus, and a big one at that.

He said: “It was in the summer, my second season (as manager) and I went to Frome predominantly to watch Mark.

“He could play right-back and left-back. Coops has stood out really well but my big thing was that we were after a big centre-forward to basically replace Tim Sills.

“Thommo, he really stood out. On the night, he bullied the centre-halves and stretched them, everything I was looking for in a centre-forward to go with Stewart Yetton at the time.

“Thommo being Thommo and the character he is, he took some real big persuading because of the size of the club at Weymouth.

“He didn’t think he was good enough but we managed to convince him anyway.

“Nine seasons on, he’s had a great career and I’ve got nothing but admiration for him for all the times he’s come back from hamstring injuries and all the little ailments he’s had.

“It’s one of my big plus points as a manager and one of my biggest signings.”

And boy, did Thomson need persuading.

When Foster left Frome, so did many of his players out of loyalty.

It was not inconceivable that Thomson, being the loyal striker he is, would have returned to Gillingham Town that summer.

But Matthews’ interest turned his head and Foster revealed how the forward called him up for advice before agreeing to the Weymouth move.

Foster said: “When I was sacked, a lot of players left. Ben phoned me and we had a conversation.

“He said: ‘What do I do?’ I said: ‘Jason’s a nice kid, I’ve known him for years, you’ll be fine’.

“I think he was quite a homeboy, he’d have gone back and played for Gill. Of course, he’s only played for me from Gillingham to Frome.

“We had a good relationship and I said: ‘Jason’s cool, he’ll look after you. He’s like me and you’ll be fine’. So, obviously he went, which was great for me because I’d been sacked.

“As soon as he knew I’d been sacked, he left anyway.”

Frome turned out to be Foster’s last major management job before he moved to Cairns, Australia.

Armed with his UEFA A Licence, he coached on a freelance basis with former Bath and Yeovil midfielder Jamie Gosling.

However, the coaching at a level equivalent to Step 5 in England, did not generate sufficient funds for him and Foster now concentrates on his painting and decorating business in the Queensland city.

The fact he still keeps in touch with Thomson speaks volumes.

When he signed for the Terras, Weymouth knew they were getting a player fiercely loyal to those who placed their trust in him.

So much so, that Matthews needed both patience and persistence to land his signature.

“It took at least four or five phone calls trying to persuade Thommo to come,” he said.

“Coops played a part in that, I’m not going to lie. I just remember Adrian being manager at Frome at the time and trying to take two of his best players.

“As a manager you’ve got to be ruthless like that, do your homework and due diligence.

“That’s one thing with Weymouth in the vicinity it’s in. You’ve got a pool of players that’s a little bit tight. Now, so many teams fight over the same players.

“He complemented what I already had at the club. He went on to prove that.”

Thomson would go on to play 277 times for Weymouth, scoring 69 goals and assisting 47 others.

Dorset Echo: Ben Thomson's career stats for WeymouthBen Thomson's career stats for Weymouth (Image: MARK PROBIN)

A large part of his success came under Matthews’ successor, Mark Molesley, who partnered the frontman with a certain Brandon Goodship.

Together, the duo lit up the Southern League in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons.

“Obviously, Moles saw him as a big player,” Matthews said.

“He used him very well and found the perfect foil with him in Brandon.”

Although Goodship departed in the summer of 2019 to complete a move to League One with Southend United, Thomson stayed at Weymouth as they reached the National League.

However, three years later, he would leave after relegation under David Oldfield and joined Salisbury.

His exit caused an outpouring of grief from Weymouth fans, who by now were besotted with the striker.

Molesley, at the time, told Echosport he would be “greatly indebted” to Thomson for his impact at Weymouth and hailed him for “taking care of the defence by himself.”

When Thomson joined Salisbury, he would link up with Matthews, in 2022 the Salisbury goalkeeping coach, under another Weymouth legend in Steve Claridge.

Salisbury was by then becoming something of a Weymouth reunion club, as Goodship also joined the Whites following his time at the Shrimpers.

“I’ve seen the partnership him and Brandon formed at Step 3,” Matthews said.

“A couple of phone calls, he’s a really good person as well as a player, it was a no-brainer to recommend him to Steve at the time.”

And it is that sentiment of Matthews’ that could possibly define Thomson.

Fans will remember him for his playing days and his infectious character.

“He’s very unassuming, a real character,” Matthews said.

“Underestimate him at your peril. He’s famed for saying things like he hates football, then goes out and terrorizes defenders!

“He really gives teams a platform to work off of with his hold-up play. His ability to stretch teams was probably a little bit of a rare breed in this day and age.

“I certainly can’t see him as a coach, but he could come and surprise me!”

Thomson would of course return to Weymouth in November 2022, but cruelly was injured by a nasty tackle 15 minutes into his second debut at Welling.

Injuries would plague the remainder of his time at Weymouth and, in January 2024, he called time on his celebrated career.

But the final word belongs to Molesley who, when Thomson left Weymouth in 2022, said he would always have a “soft spot” for the forward.

The iconic ex-Terras boss said: “They say you shouldn’t have favourites, but it was hard not to have one with Thommo.

“He always played down his ability and his love of football, in an unassuming manner to say the least!

“He has a dry sense of humour off the pitch and was a lion on it, someone who I have the utmost respect for and someone I was proud to have managed.”

So, there you have it. The story of how Ben Thomson came to sign for Weymouth and the success that followed.

Thomson began football as a winger, transformed himself into a striker and hangs his boots up as a Weymouth legend.