Schnitzels sum up the reason why Thomas came home

In the end it’s the schnitzels that epitomise why Lawrence Thomas knows he made the right decision, though the prospect of a Sydney derby Elimination Final is quite persuasive too.

Almost exactly a year since the goalkeeper turned his back on something he’d dreamed of, his choice to come home is paying off in spades. We can see the evidence on the field, in his performances for Western Sydney Wanderers, but he can feel it off the pitch. “Now I just wake up happy,” he says. “I’m in a good mood every day.”

Thomas learnt the hard way that all that glitters in Europe for a footballer isn’t always gold for a human being, especially one who came to realise, after more than a year of soul-searching, what really matters.

It’s doubtful he’ll be able to see them in the packed crowd on Saturday night, when his Wanderers side hosts Sydney FC, but Thomas knows his family and friends will be watching the local boy endeavour to push Western Sydney closer to a grand final and end Sydney FC’s season in the process.


SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 01: Lawrence Thomas of the Wanderers celebrates the goal of the Wanderers during the round 10 A-League Men’s match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Macarthur FC at CommBank Stadium on January 01, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

That’s double confirmation right there that he made the right decision in quitting European football just when he’d made the Socceroos and seemed at the top of his game. 

There are other ways to measure the quality of your life, though, and those include the ability to drive straight from a home game to his beloved grandmother’s house to eat her schnitzels in the company of his mum and siblings.

For a boy who effectively left home and left Sydney at 16, a year after his father passed away, to be a man back in that orbit again 14 years later makes everything worthwhile.

It’s equally as important, of course, that he has been a key figure in Western Sydney reaching the finals for the first time since 2017, playing a brand of football which is both highly watchable and successful.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 31: Lawrence Thomas of the Wanderers makes a save during the round 22 A-League Men’s match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Adelaide United at CommBank Stadium, on March 31, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

If it’s hard to square the reflective figure talking quietly in the Wanderers’ meals room with the dominant goalkeeper you see during games – “I’m a lot louder on the pitch!” he insists with a smile – then the two sides help to explain why he’s here, and not still in Denmark.

“If I was going to come back it was for family reasons as I hadn’t been back living in Sydney for a long time,” he says. “Then Rudes (Wanderers manager Marko Rudan) gave me a call and I was quite fortunate that my hometown club was having a rebuild.”


You could say that St Kilda and Haderslev are poles apart both figuratively and literally; for Thomas, they might as well be night and day. 

After more than a decade living in – and loving – the suburb at the heart of Melbourne, an overnight transition to a small Danish town was dislocating in more ways than one.

Having won two league titles with Melbourne Victory, Thomas had felt a need for a new challenge for a couple of years; when it came out of the blue, in the midst of a Covid bubble to finish the season three years ago, his whole world changed. 

FARUM, DENMARK – APRIL 15: Kian Hansen of FC Nordsjalland scores the 2-0 goal against Goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas of Sonderjyske during the Danish 3F Superliga match between FC Nordsjalland and Sonderjyske at Right to Dream Park on April 15, 2022 in Farum, Denmark. (Photo by Lars Ronbog / FrontZoneSport via Getty Images)

“We were in the hub in Sydney and this opportunity came up in Denmark but they needed an answer really quickly,” he says. “I’d been at Victory for eight or nine years and it happened literally overnight – I had to go down to breakfast in the morning and say, ‘Cheers boys, it’s been a pleasure’. Two days later I was in Denmark.

“To be there for that long and not have an opportunity to play one last game or say goodbye to people around the club, it’s a bit funny.

“But, I felt like I needed that challenge, something new. The first six or seven months there it was really exciting, it was new, playing great football. Playing against Midtjylland, against teams that play in the Champions League and the Europa League, and I felt really comfortable at that level.

“To be honest, deep down I always knew that unless I was going to a big, major city, moving to anywhere from Melbourne would be a step down in lifestyle. I think Melbourne is one of the most incredible cities in the world, there’s always stuff going on.

“And then I got (to Haderslev) and it was tiny. One main street, maybe two or three restaurants. At first it wasn’t too challenging because everything was new – a new country, new football, but as time went on it became a bit difficult.

“As the first year went on, off the field I was really unhappy. I tried to juggle in my mind, was it the COVID situation? The first seven or eight months I was there it was still lockdown. I’m thinking, is it me being in Denmark or just Covid and that will pass?

“I was really happy on one side with the football but after training, in a small town with not much to do, it started to take its toll.

“The whole second year was probably the first time in my career questioning whether football came first in terms of my decision.

“I was 29 years old, and asking, what’s the tradeoff? I’m here, I’m doing well, but if I’m going to be here for two to three years, where’s the balance here?”

Lawrence Thomas of the Wanderers signals during the A-League Men’s soccer match between Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Saturday, March 18, 2023. (AAP Image/Mark Evans) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

His age was significant; with the maturity to see the broader context of his life, making decisions becomes a far deeper process, with a much longer-term horizon. 

“I left home when I was quite young, I went to Sheffield and Coventry (on trial), I was 16 or 17, came back to the AIS then was living in Melbourne for most of the time,” he says.  

“Even though it’s quite close to Sydney, as a footballer you might get one day off a week and you don’t want to spend it flying. 

“Even playing in Melbourne I probably saw my family only when we had an away trip, after the game, for a hour. So it probably took me the whole second year (in Denmark) with one side of me saying this was best for my football and just stick it out, and the other half of me knowing I just wasn’t happy.”

Finally, and even after securing his first international cap, the decision wasn’t hard. “To be honest, no, I sort of just go with what my gut feeling is, what I feel I need,” he says. “I knew that playing in Europe, especially playing regularly, gives you the upper hand (in terms of the Socceroos) but in saying that, me being happy off the field has been fully reflected this season.

“These are the special things that I was weighing up – (for the first time) since I was 17 and left home, just to be able to after a game to go see (his family), just the first time living here.”

And so we can see the best of Lawrence Thomas the goalkeeper, one who doesn’t just know how critical a role he could play in the derby, but embraces it.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 15: Lawrence Thomas of the Wanderers and team mates interact with fans after the round 24 A-League Men’s match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne Victory at CommBank Stadium, on April 15, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

“I like being a bit different,” he says. “I actually thrive off the added responsibility, the pressure, knowing it’s a very unique position. 

“A lot of people don’t understand how in a split second things can happen – you can have a fantastic game, a fantastic season, but one or two mistakes in a game and things change very quickly. 

“I guess (it’s) my personality, I’m a bit jovial but quite relaxed, don’t take things too seriously. As a goalkeeper you will make a mistake but I don’t tend to hold on to it.

“There’ll be a lot of feeling in the stadium, it’s exciting. The fans haven’t had too much of this recently but we have lot of experienced players. Some have played Champions League, Milos (Ninkovic) has won the league 45,000 times he says, I’ve been there a few times.”