Denis Thwaites: Fast and skilful footballer who played for Birmingham City and was murdered in a terrorist attack in Tunisia

The 70-year-old was in the second day of a holiday with his wife Elaine

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Denis Thwaites, who played for Birmingham City in the top tier of English football during the 1960s, was among the Britons who died in the terrorist massacre on a beach near the Tunisian resort of Sousse.

The 70-year-old Thwaites was in the second day of a holiday with his Birmingham-born wife Elaine, 69. His family were initially told they had survived and were recuperating in hospital, but when their daughter Lindsey and her husband flew to Tunisia she learned they had been misinformed.

Thwaites, a pacy, skilful left-winger who was born and raised in the Teesside town of Stockton, was something of a teenaged prodigy who represented England at schoolboy and youth level and also excelled at cricket and athletics. Birmingham were so keen to recruit him that when he arrived at St Andrew's as a 15-year-old in 1960, they moved his parents to the Midlands, his father Jim becoming a member of the club's groundstaff.

He made his first-team debut at the age of 16 in a League Cup game at Swindon in 1961, eight months before joining the full-time professional ranks. The beginning of the 1962-63 season saw him replace Bertie Auld (later to win the European Cup with Celtic) in a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal. Although he scored twice against Chelsea the following year – the first of a respectable haul of 18 goals in 83 league starts for Blues – he was on the winning side only once in his first 23 appearances.

Denis with his wife Elaine who was also murdered in the terrorist attack (PA)

In the 1964-65 campaign, which ended with Birmingham being relegated, Thwaites finally secured a regular place. He scored in both encounters with the eventual champions, Manchester United, as well against runners-up Leeds and FA Cup winners Liverpool. He then struck twice against Crystal Palace on the opening day of 1965-66 and later hit seven goals in 12 matches, but between 1965 and '70 he became marginalised under the management of Stan Cullis.

A problem with big-match nerves appeared to be prevent Thwaites fulfilling his potential, leading Cullis and successor Freddie Goodwin to prefer wingers who were arguably less gifted, such as Bert Murray, Trevor Hockey and the current chief executive of the Professional Footballers' association, Gordon Taylor. He started just 11 league fixtures in his last six seasons at Birmingham.

In 1972, with an exciting new generation of forwards such as Trevor Francis and Bob Latchford emerging at St Andrew's, Thwaites was released after 10 years, 95 competitive outings and 21 goals for Birmingham. Three years after playing before three 50,000-plus crowds in the FA Cup, he was turning out for Rover Solihull in the Birmingham Works League at the age of 27.

Thwaites, the uncle of full-back Steve Lilwall, who played for West Bromwich Albion in the 1990s, later lived in Blackpool and worked as a hospital porter. Former team-mates described him as a gentle, friendly character and fine footballer, Scottish striker Bobby Thomson saying: "Denis was a cracking player. He had so much speed and skill. He was just a bit shy."


Denis Thwaites, footballer and hospital porter: born Stockton-on-Tees, Co Durham 14 December 1944; married Elaine Stanley (died 2015; one daughter); died Port el Kantaoui, Tunisia 26 June 2015.