The quietly spoken young midfielder became a sleeper hit in the Bolton dressing room during the promotion campaign, forcing his way into the senior team after spending the first few months out on loan in the Northern Premier League.
At this time last year, many Whites fans would have been challenged to spell Thomason’s surname correctly, let alone recognise a face which eventually proved so important in the run-in to promotion.
Thomason admits the anonymity worked in his favour, too, as neither League Two opposition nor his new club’s supporters knew quite what to make of him after bursting on to the scene at the end of 2020.
“When I’d first joined Bolton I went out of loan quite quickly,” he told The Bolton News. “By the time I came back we were in the midst of a pandemic and then in pre-season I went out on loan again, to Bamber Bridge.
“At the time I don’t think many Bolton fans knew a thing about me. Literally, nobody knew who I was.
“Maybe that worked to my advantage a little bit because I got a chance to go out there and show what I can do without any previous experiences clouding judgement.
“I could be seen as the breath of fresh air because we all recognise the first half of the season wasn’t exactly ideal.
“I was proud and honoured. I had some freedom to go out there and show what I could do because nobody had seen me play before.
“And then with every bit of experience you get, confidence grew, and it worked out quite well in the end.”
Thomason had continued to train with the Wanderers first team last season despite his loan but found himself surprisingly drafted on to the team-sheet for a home league debut against Port Vale in December.
Bolton had finally found some winning form and were on a five-game streak as they welcomed the Valiants who, at the time, were on a wretched run.
It was hardly the debut of dreams. Ian Evatt’s side were beaten 6-3 on their home turf in a crazy afternoon, and accusatory glances were cast in the manager’s direction for putting such an untested quantity into a physical midfield.
“At the time I felt a bit down because we were on a good run, I came into the team and thought ‘oh no, is this my doing?’ Thomason said.
“Thankfully, I had good people around me, my family, my friends, the coaching staff and the players all regrouped. No major damage was done.
“December wasn’t the best but I still think there were snippets of how things eventually went, the good football we played collectively, and then at the turn of the year it started to come into fruition.
“The Port Vale game was a strange one. Football is a high-pressure environment and everyone is entitled to an opinion. I try to block out all the extreme ones because you can’t get too high with the highs or low with the lows. You’ll end up on an emotional rollercoaster.
“If you can take each game on its own merit and play to the best of your ability then there’s nothing too much to worry about.”
Even Thomason’s first senior goal, which arrived later the same month at Carlisle United, had the gloss taken off it.
“We were 3-0 down so I couldn’t really celebrate” he laughed. “It was one of only two games this season we’d had fans in as well so I remember it quite well – the ball came across and the ground just went silent, it was unique. But at the same time we weren’t in a great place in the game so it was a case of ‘go get the ball, start again.’ And we got back into the game, so that was great.”
Beyond January, when Bolton recruited the more experienced MJ Williams and Kieran Lee in midfield, Thomason’s appearances were understandably more restricted.
But the 20-year-old said a constant line of communication from Evatt and his coaching staff helped to soften the blow of not being in the team. Evatt eventually used Thomason in games where his range of passing and extra energy were of benefit, and his record in crunch victories against Crawley, Salford, Morecambe and Forest Green spoke for itself.
“I think from when I first came into the team, the more experience I gained, I am definitely more confident but alongside that having the complete trust of the manager and the team was massively important,” Thomason explained.
“I knew there were times when I wasn’t in the team regularly but I the manager always talked to me, told me to be ready. I just felt that was the time to pay back the faith he had in me during those important games.
“Every time I played I knew I had the confidence of those around me, so that allowed me to play football and not think of anyone else.
“He is good with man-management and he is also a big believer that if you are doing well and working hard on the training pitch then you will also get your rewards through game time. It is a lot of things that people don’t see, things throughout the week leading into those games.”
Getting on to a month after the wild promotion celebrations, Thomason is only now able to digest exactly what a whirlwind adventure has undertook.
Rewarded with a new contract in February, the youngster can now look back and say his first full season in professional football did not end up badly at all.
“It is a cliché but it didn’t really sink in straight away,” he said. “Everything came so quickly and you had to take it in your stride because we were playing Saturday-Tuesday near enough every week. All you could think about was winning the next one.
“There was a lot of mental and physical stress from January onwards because it was such a pressured environment. It was good to wind down and reflect, have a few weeks off with friends, family and team-mates.
“I’ve had a few weeks of down time, let the mind and body rest, but I have started to pick things up a little bit now, running-wise, keep things ticking over.
“Once we had achieved what we set out to do at Crawley you can finally take a step back from football and look at what happened. It really was quite a big deal what we accomplished in the end.”
Thomason was also given Wanderers’ young player of the year award, joining a list of former winners that include big names such as Chung-Yong Lee, Nicky Hunt, Kevin Nolan, Joey O’Brien, Adam Bogdan, Rob Holding, Josh Vela and Zach Clough.
“It’s such a big factor in why I love playing for this football club and turning up to work every day is because of that rich history,” he added.
“They are just a couple of the names – and to be honest, it’s an honour just to be in the same list as them.
“It’s nice to be able to pick up that award but it was always more important that we got promotion, taking that necessary step back to where the club belongs.”