When the professional rugby union team in Cardiff announced it would be changing its name and reverting to its original blue and black colours earlier this month, Gonville & Caius College basked in some reflected glory.
The origins of Cardiff’s colours can be traced to the first Cardiff RFC photo of 1878-79, explains rugby historian Gwyn Prescott, a Queens’ graduate who played for the University of Cambridge in the 1960s.
Thomas Rees is pictured in the middle row, third from right, in the Caius strip which Cardiff adopted (Credit: Cardiff Rugby Museum)
“In 1877/78, after dispensing with its original black jersey with skull and crossbones, Cardiff adopted the colours with which it has been associated ever since,” Gwyn says.
“These were inspired by the jersey worn by Thomas William John Rees, who was then a student at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, having earlier attended Rugby School (where the sport was founded).
“He can be seen in the photograph (middle row third from right) wearing a slightly different strip from his team-mates. Evidently, this is the actual Caius College jersey which gave rise to Cardiff’s traditional blue and black colours.”
Thomas Rees was a student at Caius from October 1, 1875 achieving his BA in 1879, according to College records. He was a solicitor in Cardiff, and later moved to South Africa.
Cardiff is a world famous club. Numerous past and present Wales and British and Irish Lions have played for Cardiff – Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Rob Howley, Dai Young, Gareth Thomas, Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny, Martyn Williams, Gethin Jenkins and Sam Warburton, to name a few – while their most famous overseas player is Jonah Lomu, the New Zealand wing who made 10 appearances in 2005-06. Roberts provides another Cambridge connection. He was at Queens’ and played in the 2015 Varsity Match.
Cardiff’s professional team has been known as Cardiff Blues since a 2003 restructuring by the Welsh Rugby Union. A long campaign by supporters was successful, and the club will be rebranded as Cardiff Rugby, and revert to the blue and black strip, shared with Caius, at the start of the 2021-22 season (https://cardiffblues.com/news/introducing-cardiff-rugby).
The story came to the attention of Caius when the College Twitter account was mentioned by CF10, the supporters’ trust which is recording the history of Cardiff rugby. Lynn Glaister, the chair designate, shared how CF10 have created an online museum to international museum standards ("thanks to a number of very dedicated and skilled people within our group," she says), and put Caius in touch with Gwyn.
Gwyn is a member the heritage committee at the club which has responsibility for the Cardiff Rugby Museum. He has also contributed a chapter on the origins of rugby at Cambridge for a history of the Cambridge University Rugby Union Football Club, which is to be published later this year coincide with the club’s 150th anniversary.
Caius recently changed the design of the team jerseys, as captain James O'Sullivan explains.
James said: "We updated our kit last year as the old kit had lots of numbers missing, and the captain at the time opted to change the shirt design as there was a fondness for the quartered pattern of our social jerseys we wear after matches. I don’t think we had any idea how far the hooped design went back – something to consider next time we update our kit for sure!"
Caius' 2019 team
Caius' current team - and jersey
James O'Sullivan in the new Caius jersey
The College would like to thank Gwyn Prescott, Lynn Glaister, and Steve Coombs of CF10 for sharing this story, and Cardiff Rugby Museum for permission to use the 1878 photograph.
The full story of the jersey is available on the CF10 website: https://cf10rugbytrust.org/blog/why-blue-and-black
Visit the Cardiff Rugby Museum website for more information: https://cardiffrugbymuseum.org/object/photograph-cardiff-football-club-187879