We’re a bit fond of getting Stoke City heroes interviewed in DUCK. And I think it’s fair to say that Thomas Løvendahl Sørensen is a modern day Potters legend.
If you ever doubt that, just consider the following: ‘Tommy’ was a goalkeeper who did as much as anyone to keep us in The Premier League, stabilise our position in The Premier League, get us to an FA Cup Final (and keep us in that game!), and into Europe. A man who played through the pain barrier for the red and white stripes, and someone who played for us with real pride, dedication, and enormous talent.
Tommy started his career with his local side Odense BK and then had spells with Vejle, Svendborg, Sunderland, and Aston Villa, before joining us in 2008, and during his career won over a century of caps for Denmark!
Tommy and his family now reside in Australia, where he plays for A-League club Melbourne City. We caught up with him recently……
Tell us a bit about growing up in Denmark. What kind of lad were you?
I grew up in a very secure enviroment with my parents and my younger brother. My father was a very good handball and football player and I think that inspired me from an early age. I remember always wanting to be the best at everything I did…..in school or sports.
You were born in Fredericia. Can you describe it to us please.
It’s a very historic and commercial town. Old fortifications go back to the war of 1850 and the big modern harbour is the central hub of the area. I grew up in the suburbs and only have good memories from that time.
Were you always a goalkeeper as a kid or did you play out of goal?
I tried my hand at all positions at an early age, but settled on goalkeeping at Under 14 level. I think I had a good feeling about my ability and really enjoyed the challenge of being the last line of defense.
How did you get spotted by Odense BK?
I went through trials for the regional team and eventually got selected for the final squad. Not long after that I was contacted by Odense and offered an opportunity to join their youth team. It was one of the best youth setups in the country.
After impressing on loan in the Danish League you went to Sunderland. How did that happen?
I had been involved with the Danish Under 21 squad for a few years and had drawn a bit of interest from Ajax and Udinese. In my mind it was really a choice between those two clubs, until I had a late invitation to visit Sunderland. I was blown away by the club, the passion and this amazing opportunity. Everything else is history.
Were you ever homesick after leaving your home country?
It is always difficult to leave your friends and family behind but I felt ready for the change. The club, players and my girlfriend, now my wife, also made the transition a lot easier than it could have been. The huge success we had on the pitch in the first year also played a huge part in settling in.
You kept 29 clean sheets in a season at Sunderland; a record, and you won promotion. They loved you up there, didn’t they?
I had an amazing time at Sunderland and will forever be grateful for the opportunity Peter Reid gave me, and the support of the fans. It is always a pleasure going back to the Stadium of Light and get the sense of appreciation for what I did at the club.
The Shearer penalty save – what do you remember of it? Sunderland fans will always remember it, won’t they?
It is really funny how certain moments can define your career. At the time I did not totally grasp the significance of the Shearer save, but that has certainly been reminded to me a lot since! I guess it’s not going to be forgotten anytime soon.
Why did you leave Sunderland to go to Villa? And weren’t Man United interested?
I never really wanted to leave Sunderland but their relegation and financial problems forced a lot of players out, including me. A few clubs were interested in me, but Villa offered the right package for me at the time. Throughout my career it has always been important for me to play, and it weighed highly in my decision.
Villa chose Scott Carson over you. That must have hurt?
After four really good years at Villa I got injured in preseason and ran into a brick wall with manager. The last ten months ended up being the worst of my career.
How did Tony Pulis/Peter Coates sell Stoke City to you?
I have never shied away from a challenge and that was exactly what Tony Pulis and Stoke City offered me. They needed players with experience and leadership to try to establish a foothold in the Premier League. I, among others, fitted the bill – and we truly succeeded.
Were you at your fittest and best whilst at Stoke?
As a goalkeeper you tend to peak in your early 30’s and those were the years I was at Stoke. So maybe I was at my best, but it is so hard to judge. The only thing I know for sure, is that I did my best.
Who were your best mates in the dressing room and why?
We had a really strong goalkeeping group during my time at the club and some of my best friends have come out of there. I speak regularly to Asmir, Jack and Andy Quy. The respect I have for those guys and the great moments we have shared will never be forgotten.
You’ve had your fair share of injuries due to being a brave and totally committed last line of defence. You almost lost your eyesight when playing for us – tell us what happened?
Part of goalkeeping is sometimes going into situations head first. Call it brave or stupid, but that’s the job. In a game against Tottenham at the Britannia I slid out to a through ball but got caught by Alan Hutton’s outstretched leg. Luckily it ended up with only 18 stitches and not lost eyes!
You also dislocated your elbow at Chelsea. As someone who has dislocated their shoulder and cried like a big baby – just how much pain were you in that day?
I have dislocated my elbow twice during my career and both times have been very painful. Without the gas and air I got on the pitch and on the way to the hospital, I probably would have cried like a baby, too!
What do you remember about the crowd that first season at Stoke in the Premier League?
The crowd at the Brit had a massive part in the team’s success in that first year in the Premier League. I especially remember the game against Manchester City, where we, one man down, battled to a 1-0 win. The atmosphere that day is probably the best I have ever experienced.
We got a lot of criticism for how we played at Stoke in our first few seasons – was this unfair?
At the end of the day it was all about staying in the Premier League. We had a clear game plan that everyone bought into, and that was designed around our strengths. It certainly annoyed some within the football establishment, but none of us really cared. If anything, it only made us work harder.
How does it feel to join a long list of goalkeeping greats that have played for Stoke?
The club has really been blessed with a long line of good keepers. To be counted among them is a huge honour.
Did you ever get the chance to have a chat with Gordon Banks?
I have had the pleasure of talking Gordon a few times and he has always been very supportive. Whenever a true great opens his mouth, you listen.
The FA Cup run…..culminating in THAT day in the semi final. What are your memories of the day?
It was an amazing day for everyone connected with the club. With 35,000 Stokies behind us we totally outclassed at tough Bolton side 5-0. It was a very proud moment for myself and the team. Very surreal in a way, as none of us had ever imagined that scenario.
The Cup Final was two weeks earlier than usual due to the Champions League final being played at Wembley – did those two weeks (and our injuries) stop us from winning the FA Cup?
It’s always easy to find reasons to why you did not win. In my mind were very close with that late Kenwyne Jones chance just before Man City scored. We tried everything but it was just not to be.
That save off Ballotelli in the Final – was that your best/favourite one?
I took a lot of pride out of my performance in the final. The Ballotelli save is a nice memory but it will never make up for losing.
The Europa League was a brilliant experience for us – what do you remember of it?
It was a great experience for all of us. Playing against European giants like Dynamo Kiev, Besiktas and Valencia and reaching the latter stages. The final night in Spain symbolised the whole journey and the spirit of the fans. To see so many travelling Stokies singing loud and proud is something I will never forget
Summer 2016, you completed a marathon bike ride with your wife and others across America…..
For the last 10 years I have been involved in a kid’s charity in Denmark helping sick and disadvantaged children. On top of that I have always loved a challenge and a bit of adventure. All that ended up in a 5900km bike ride across America last summer. An amazing experience which raised £80.000.
You have now started a new life in Australia – will you go back to live in Denmark one day?
Where we go after Australia is still an unknown. It depends on the opportunities and what the family wants I guess. Denmark is certainly an option.
What does the future hold for you?
I don’t have my future after football nailed yet. I have a lot of things I want to do, but I know that football will always be a part of my life. In what capacity I don’t know, but I am starting off with my coaching badges. Then I will see where I go from there. I also want to devote some time to my painting.
What 3 things do you miss about Denmark?
Family/friends, food and culture
I hope that you felt loved and hugely appreciated by the fans whilst at Stoke: do you have a message for the fans who worshipped you?
I had seven great years at Stoke and YOU fans played a big part in that. The songs and appreciation means more than you know, and for that, I am forever one of you.
Huge thanks to Paul Stretford and Triple S Sports and Entertainment Group for making this interview happen. We really appreciated the chance to put our questions to a Stoke City legend!