This weekend the Club acknowledges a significant milestone by one of the Club’s most respected players, former Club Captain, Tommy ‘Turbo’ Angel. In this week’s Round 10 Premier Division match against Inner West Magpies at Mike Kenny Oval, Turbo will play his 200th open-age game. At age 33, Tom becomes the 23rd Demon to reach 200 games.

A talented junior, Tom played more than 100 club games at junior clubs Pennant Hills and Westbrook. In his last years of juniors, he played for the Sydney Redbacks, was NSW State Schoolboy representative at Nationals and won his team’s Best & Fairest award in the Under 15s in 2004.

He joined the senior club in 2006, starting in the Under 18s and had his first grade debut in the same year, playing Premier Division in the Round 13 match against St George Dragons at Olds Park. His senior career started with a win; Pennant Hills getting up by 14 points. Michael Cousens, senior coach, said this when selecting young Tom for his senior debut “… You don’t need me to tell you that we don’t know all that much about each other. Having said that, what I do know is you look a genuine player to me. You’re skilled, hard, quick, determined but most of all unphased by whatever you might face on a footy field. Such traits are rarely seen in someone so young so I couldn’t help but pick you today and let you show everyone at our senior club your capability.

From 2008, Tom settled in as a regular first grader, however, he was desperately unlucky to miss selection for the Grand Final that year. Pennant Hills beat East Coast Eagles by 104 points, but Tommy could only watch on.

After his personal disappointment of 2008, he then had to endure consecutive losses to Manly Warringah in the 2013 and 2014 Grand Finals. However, the tables eventually turned and the records now show that Tommy is a dual premiership player, winning flags in 2015 and 2017 … a fantastic reward for his long and dedicated service to the Club. He capped off one of his best seasons by winning the Ern Holmes Trophy for Best & Fairest in Premier Division and was voted Player’s Player by his team-mates. He was also selected in the Sydney AFL Team of the Year, named as interchange. Season 2015 was “nothing short of outstanding. Arguably, the best season of senior football Tom ever had.

Tom was Co-Captain of the 2017 premiership team, with King Carey, and his formidable leadership qualities earned him sole captain responsibility from 2018 to 2020.

As to his football prowess, Tom plays a raw brand of footy … hard, fast and frenetic … ‘turbo-charged’! He’s a relentless tenacious hard running on-baller who works the whole ground with an almost reckless abandon for his own personal safety. According to former Senior Coach, Michael “Cuzzy” Cousens … “Tommy is a desperate competitor. He loves the contact and physical aspects of the game. He has good skill and ability to really kick with penetration. He’s in no way silky but he’s certainly an accumulator of possessions which he essentially achieves through grunt and work rate.”

This is familiar refrain from teammates that know him best.

His younger brother Harry says … “Tom sits high on the list of pure footballers that have donned the red and blue jumper. Tough, hard, uncompromising, mixed with polish, finesse and an appetite for big moments. To me, he plays football the right way.” 

Long-time teammate Tim Wales says … “When I think about Tommy the footballer, the thing that sticks out the most is that he is the ultimate leader and competitor. You always know what you’re going to get from him when you cross the white line. He has always had the special ability to inspire his teammates through his words and leading by example on the field with his tough and uncompromising style of play. He is certainly a player that I always looked up to and still do to this day.

Another long-time teammate, Ranga ‘’Reggie” Ediriwickrama says … “I’ve had the pleasure to play with Tom ‘Turbo’ Angel since I was 13 years old and have watched him grow from the brash talented kid, to the competitive beast at the peak of his powers, and finally to the wise old-head in the latter part of his career. Through it all, Turbo has always inspired me, whether it be through his competitive tenacity – pushing himself beyond the limits by sheer will, leading with words and actions – and just when you think the well is dry he still inspires by returning to footy after having sustained an ACL injury in his 30’s that would have been, for mere mortals, career-ending!

Inside the first minute of the 2021 season, Tom experienced every footballer’s nightmare, a ruptured ACL. The injury, knee reconstruction, recovery and rehabilitation denied Tom the better part of two seasons, during which he was unable to play football. What’s more, it was unclear if the injury and absence from the game he loved would be career ending?

In Tom’s own words …

“Absolutely, it could have been the end of my footy career. I was 31 at the time and we had just welcomed son Dusty to the world. However, I was determined to complete the rehab and then test myself as to whether I could return to play footy. The rehab was really challenging. Between running a business and attempting to be a present, supportive father and husband all during Covid … it was tough to stay on task.

My progression was reasonable at the start, however, then slowed due to setbacks from my hamstring where they had taken the graft for the new ACL and then calf issues. Gyms were also shut during a large portion of this period so gaining strength back was again a challenge and we had to be creative. I managed to get back to Penno training in the second half of the 2022 season, and then completed a 4-6 week program in an attempt to play footy again in the regular season prior to finals. Anyone who has had a long term injury or health issue will know that the hardest part is convincing the mind that I was strong enough and ready to put myself into a game situation again.

In Round 16, I managed to get picked in the 2s and played nearly 3 quarters of the game. The feeling of being able to compete, smash into a few bodies and snag a goal near the end of the game was glorious. Then celebrating the win, singing the song with my son Dusty in the rooms and just having that winning feeling once more is one of the biggest highlights of my footy career, a day I will never forget and something I am personally very proud of!

The biggest driver for me to return to play again in 2023 was my need for fulfilment. After doing the rehab on my knee, and only getting to play 3 games in 2022, I was left very unfulfilled when we lost in R18 against St George and missed out on playing finals. With the group that was around – I felt we still had more to offer and had underperformed. After a lot of soul searching, the decision was absolutely to go one more season and hope that I could offer something to the group through my leadership”.

This season, Tom was picked in the senior side for round 1 and has played every game so far. Judging by his on-field efforts this season, Tom clearly has his mojo back.

As a leader at the Club, he’s a good communicator on and off the field and most importantly, through his actions, he sets a high bar for his team-mates to emulate. When it comes to playing with power and passion, Tom is the Standard, and at times it seems he pushes his body beyond the limits of endurance. Undoubtedly, in every game, he is the loudest on the ground, constantly exhorting, encouraging, directing, and instructing his teammates.

Reggie puts it nicely when he says that “… a lot of people are due credit for the success Penno has had over the years, batting above our average, but I have no doubt, from a player perspective, few have had a bigger impact than Turbo. While team success is always the ultimate, and personal achievements are nice to have (both of which Turbo has enjoyed in spades), I’m sure when it is all said and done, the thing Turbo will be most proud of is the lasting impact he has had culturally on the club as club captain and passing and enhancing that culture on to the next generation of Demons.”

Waler says “Tommy‘s determination, passion and love for the football club is unmatched, and this was clearly evident during the second-half of 2017 and through the finals campaign. He is one of the toughest footballers I have ever played with, and he played some seriously good football during this period. He put a young group of players on his back, dragged them out of a hole and led them to premiership glory!” 

Former senior coach, Chris Yard, has fond memories of his relationship with Turbo “… his clown outfits on silly Sundays whilst holding the cup and his medal. Turbo leading the charge with some blunt team assessments after a loss. The many conversations he and I had, some serious, some not so. Even after my retirement from coaching, I have continued to enjoy the occasional call from Thomas, talking about the history of the club and how he intended to use his experience to pass onto some of the new blood, the pups. I love and loved his passion and drive for the club.

Tom is a familiar and popular figure at the Club. He’s 100% guts or glory on-field but also has a bit of the larrikin about him, and his return to the Club has been important for the Premier Division side. He’s a senior and seasoned player who continues to perform at the highest level. His on-field work-rate is second to none and he is a fantastic role-model to the ‘pups’ coming through. Tom is a true Demon’s champion and personification of the Club’s ‘Club – Team – Self’ ethos. We wish him all the best in his 200th game this weekend. 

Go Penno!

Written & compiled by John Acheson for PHAFC, 17 June 2023