PUBLISHED this week, Dave Thomas’s uplifting autobiography makes for compelling holiday reading. The 90-minute chat in his conservatory should not be supposed hard labour, either.

West Auckland lad, former England winger, Dave is the first former professional footballer to be registered blind and awarded a guide dog.

He and his smashing wife Brenda now live in a lovely cottage on the Lartington estate near Barnard Castle, where first they’d stayed 19 years ago as a holiday let of their own.

“If this is heaven, I’m stopping,” Brenda wrote in her diary, a chronicle illustrated by the sort of splendid drawings and paintings which now adorn the conservatory, formerly the site of a very large compost heap.

Hannah, a golden labrador guide dog, rests at her master’s feet. Ivory, a 19-year-old cat, knows her place and is clearly content with it. Horses graze no less contentedly outside.

There’s no evidence of football memorabilia. “I’m not that sort of person, I don’t show off,” says Dave, 69 next week, though his seven England caps are in what he calls his snug and the shirts, says the book, beneath the bed.

His grandfather, forever Ticer, captained the West Auckland team which won the first World Cup in 1909. His dad, in the same West Auckland house for 94 of his 98 years, also suffered from glaucoma and became blind.

Most knew young Dave as Ticer, too, though former Everton team mate Bob Latchford varied it to Tizer on the grounds that he was bubbly, like a bottle of pop. He remains effervescent, though sometimes emotional, too.

Always green fingered – “you can’t imagine Sergio Aguero and them digging their vegetable patch, can you?” – he still looks after his extensive gardens, sometimes astride a ride-on mower while wearing a crash helmet with full-face visor. Brenda bought him it after too many collisions with overhanging branches and other foliage.

“What else do you buy a man for Christmas?” she asks.

They met early in his playing days at the Fox and Hounds in Cotherstone, a couple of miles up the road from where now they live. , Brenda’s a Sunderland lass, had been a bridesmaid at legendary skipper Bobby Kerr’s wedding, They have two daughters, four grandsons, a million memories.

“It’s been a great life,” says Dave, who now also uses hearing aids.

His playing career chiefly embraced Burnley, QPR and Everton, followed by more disagreeable days at Wolves – after he’d turned down Manchester United – and Vancouver Whitecaps, a couple of months at Middlesbrough and, finally, Portsmouth.

Playing days over, coaching curtailed, he became a self-employed gardener – “£4 or £5 an hour” – a passion still evident in the manicured acres around him.

On the lawn there’s also a set of five-a-side goal posts. “I don’t play much these days,” says Dave, cheerfully. “I miss.”

THOUGH wholly without peripheral vision, and with recent further deterioration in his left eye, he still manages a round of golf, still runs along a nearby railway trackbed – a kindly neighbour carries secateurs to help clear the way – still goes fly fishing in the Tees.

His T-shirt carries the motif of the One That Got Away Fishing Club, though several salmon haven’t been so fortunate. “Brenda comes too,” he says. “It would be much too dangerous without her.”

Guided by Hannah, he also regularly catches the bus into Barney – though she’d conspicuously been absent, seriously ill in a veterinary hospital, when he spoke there with Sir Ian Botham at a charity event in May.

The book carries a postscript about that evening. “I can tell you I struggled to cope that night. Without Hannah, all I had to indicate that I was blind was a long white stick that I hadn’t used in two-and-a-half years.

“The number of people at the event was so overwhelming that my friend Roy had to guide me safely to the stage, but not before I’d stepped outside and told myself ‘Come on, you can do this’.”

Hannah now appears to have returned to full vigour, impeccable and invaluable. They’ve also had several trips to London together, even using the Underground. “You have to be a good asker, fortunately I am,” says Dave.

“I still don’t understand how the dogs do it, how they know when to stop. What I do know is that I’d be really lost without her.”

GUIDING Me Home and Away tells of largely happy days, of school at St Helen’s primary and Barnard Castle secondary modern, Dave ferried to county schools games on his dad’s elderly BSA motor cycle and sidecar, hot water bottle provided by his mum.

The book also records how Dave and an 11-year-old friend ended up before Bishop Auckland juvenile court after being charged with trespassing on the railway at West Auckland sheds, at Fylands. Both swore they’d sought permission.

Then there’s the tale of how he earned £1 6s 8d carol singing and playing the piano accordion around the doors in West Auckland. Still he pays the piano – “I get more like Stevie Wonder everyweek.”

There’s also the story, familiar to Backtrack readers, of how Lloyd Thomas had promised his lad would sign for Burnley but then found Leeds United manager Don Revie on his doorstep in West Auckland.

When Lloyd was adamant that he’d given his word, despite a massively better offer from Leeds, Revie promised he’d be back with club chairman Harry Reynolds. A few days later, the pair arrived in a Rolls Royce – much curiosity in West – bearing a brief case with £2,000 in notes by way of attempted persuasion.

When still Lloyd was insistent, Reynolds dipped into the brief case, gave Dave’s younger brother a fiver, and left. Burnley manager Harry Potts, Hetton-le-Hole lad, proved like a second father to him. By the age of 21 he had a Jaguar XJ6 and a £60 sheepskin coat, though he never fitted the flashy footballer formula.

Though he much enjoyed his time at the Queens Park Rangers of Venables, Bowles and Marsh, helped them to runners-up spot in the top division, he never once went into the players’ lounge – “too much ducking and diving” – and in a long career was only once sent off, something about advising the ref of the error of his ways.

You can take the lad out of West Auckland….

At Everton, he supposes, he had his two best seasons but the move to Wolves proved unhappy, not least because of a failure to get along with club manager John Barnwell, a former Bishop Auckland player.

After Portsmouth, he spent 29 years on the south coast, where he became a part-time PE teacher – Brenda was head of an art and technology department – before the DVLA withdrew his driving licence.

Never self-pitying, oft self-effacing, the book admits to occasional anger – not least when he tried to organise a Guide Dogs auction of signed shirts from all 20 Premier League clubs and found Liverpool the most difficult with whom to deal.

Finally, the club emailed to say that it had been agreed to supply a shirt and that it would be sent upon receipt of £7 50 postage and packing. “I went ballistic,” he admits.

So far he’s raised around £75,000 for the charity, to which all royalties from book sales will also be donated. Guiding Me Home and Away is published by Hornet Books, £20, and is wholeheartedly recommended.