A little known chapter in the rich sporting life of Ray Thomas was recounted at his funeral in Albury on Thursday.
Thomas, who died, aged 80, after a sustained health battle, is best known for his football career on and off the field with the Albury Tigers and training male and female Stawell Gift winners as an athletics coach.
But at the end of his football career Thomas made the switch to soccer and was the goal-keeper in a famous Albury City grand final victory in the same season the club was formed, 1974.
Team-mate James Cominos said the club had rich Greek origins with many supporters being Albury cafe owners who had dealings with Thomas in his job with Peters Ice Cream.
Thomas stepped into the role of goal-keeper after some heavy early season losses and his inclusion played a significant role in a stunning turnaround.
"He was sold a soccer dream of being the goal-keeper and create the spark for this new team to progress from being talented youngsters to true premiership contenders," Cominos said.
"As a 17-year-old my first memories of Ray were of someone remarkably friendly.
"He loved to banter, loved to joke around, but he approached playing soccer with the same courage and tenacity typical of him when he was playing football."
Cominos marvelled at Thomas' natural kicking and catching of a soccer ball and soon had the team working on extra fitness which helped in taking it all the way to grand final glory at Wodonga's Martin Park.
Thomas' son Jason, who was also an Albury Tigers premiership player, delivered the family tribute which began with the words "passionate, driven, selfless" and spelt out his life journey from growing up in South Albury to his 59-year marriage to wife Bev.
Soon before his death the lifelong Collingwood supporter and former Magpies' player had one last wish for the club to part ways with their current coach, Nathan Buckley.
At the service conducted by Lester & Son with Judy Gray as the celebrant, Thomas' grand children lit candles in his honour with two of them, Liam and Cody, jointly paying tribute on their behalf.
Paul Spargo, the five-time Albury Tigers coach, said Thomas had a profound influence on his life, beginning as his first football coach at Lavington Little League.
"My over-riding memories of the under 8s and under 12s out at Lavi little league was the fun," he said.
"We liked to win, but we had a lot of fun, his legendary pie nights were amazing."
Their bond tightened when Spargo returned to coach Albury in the mid-1990s in the Ovens and Murray league with Thomas the club's head trainer.
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"He was an institution at Tigerland, the trainers' room was, is and always will be Ray Thomas' domain," he said.
"His famous one-liners would keep coming from the box, the races were always on."
Robin Calleja, one of the athletes he trained, also spoke at the funeral.
The sprinter followed in the footsteps of his coach in winning a Burramine Gift, but recalled losing form in the lead-up to the Stawell Gift, leading to some stern words from the coach.
Calleja bounced back to be placed in the final.
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