After 25 years as chairman of Cardiff Rugby, Peter Thomas will stand down from his position next summer as Cardiff Blues Limited enters a new era through governance changes.
If you rewind to 1993, the world of rugby union was a vastly different place to the one we know now. The game was not yet professional, none of the top level competitions that we play in today were in existence, and the Principality Stadium was just a pipe dream.
Cardiff RFC were just coming out of a rut around this time, with 1991/92 arguably one of the worst seasons in the club’s history, but as Alec Evans arrived and 1992/93 saw noticeable improvements, the club required someone to come on board off-the-field and take us forward into impending professionalism.
Peter Thomas had been a player back in the 1960s, appearing for Cardiff Youth, Cardiff U21 and 11 times for Cardiff RFC, before joining the family business after rugby, but when his old club came calling he couldn’t resist returning to help.
He became chairman when rugby union joined the world of professional sport in 1995, and was in charge as Cardiff made it to the final of the first Heineken Cup Final in 1996, before investing money to allow the signings of top players such as Rob Howley, David Young and Gwyn Jones.
Over the next few years he funded the side as money in Welsh rugby became scarce, before being at the forefront of ensuring the Cardiff name was maintained at the top level of domestic rugby at the advent of regional rugby in 2003.
After that it was his money that helped Cardiff Blues win the EDF Energy Cup in 2009, and the Amlin Challenge Cup in 2010, as a second era of success was played out under his chairmanship.
In recent times, the financial picture of northern hemisphere professional rugby has changed quickly and dramatically, and there were threats to Cardiff Blues from a number of angles, but Thomas’ money has kept us afloat and challenging, culminating in that night in Bilbao.
Of course those cup successes, with Cardiff Blues still the only Welsh team to win a European trophy, will be a major part of the legacy left behind in the Peter Thomas era at the Arms Park, but there is more to his time as chairman than that.
He was a key figure in ensuring that Cardiff RFC survived and prospered on the transition from amateur to professional rugby, and then on from club to regional rugby in 2003 as a reported £1m was paid to standalone alongside Llanelli.
Thomas can also claim to be responsible for offering Cardiff Rugby supporters the chance to witness some of the game’s greatest players grace the Arms Park turf/plastic in home colours. From Welshmen Neil Jenkins and Gareth Thomas, to All Blacks Xavier Rush and Jonah Lomu, it would not have been possible without him.
Looking forward, he has left a real opportunity for his legacy to be governance changes in the Arms Park board room, as a new chairman and three non-executive directors are being sought in the next year. We’ll write more on this shortly!
Overdue modernisation of the business hierarchy indeed, and it is to the credit of Peter Thomas that he steps aside to allow that to take place, with the business now in a position where it can go forward without heavy investment from himself.
An important part of his legacy though, which might not be spoken about as much as his financial commitment or longevity, is his empowerment of supporters to be involved in Cardiff Rugby because, as well as being a former player, benefactor and chairman, Peter Thomas is a Cardiff RFC and Cardiff Blues fan.
He was very supportive in the creation of our colleagues at Cardiff Blues Supporters Club nine years ago, and has seen them go from strength to strength in carrying out the important work that they do to improve supporter experience.
In the early days, when others were suspicious of an independent supporters group with ideas focused on governance and fan representation, Peter Thomas openly welcomed the idea of greater supporter involvement at a Shareholder AGM, which eventually led to CF10 Arms Park Rugby Trust being recognised by Cardiff Blues.
Of course, very few people will claim to have agreed with all the decisions made by Thomas down the years, but nobody can fault the commitment, both in financial and physical terms, that he has made to Cardiff Rugby down the years.
A Life Presidency is a fitting title for Thomas going forward, and it is pleasing to see he will still be involved with the company as a shareholder and director over the next few years of exciting times, which hopefully include continued on-field success and a new lease for the Arms Park.
All that’s left to really say is thank you, Peter.