Newspaper threatened to remove Gareth Thomas days before England game
Gareth Thomas has revealed the private battle he faced as captain of Wales in the 2007 Six Nations Championship.
In the latest episode of the Welsh rugby documentary Slammed, which airs on BBC Wales at 9 p.m. on Wednesday 5 January, he refers to a threat from a newspaper that was about to reveal he was gay the day after a match against England.
A few months earlier, Thomas had cracked in the locker room after a draw with Australia and confided in Scott Johnson – a former Welsh coach who was then part of the technical staff of the Wallabies.
Johnson was the first rugby figure Thomas confided in and it was the Australian who convinced the Welshman to open up to his teammates Martyn Williams and Stephen Jones.
Read more: Get the latest Welsh rugby news, interviews and analysis here
After four years of marriage, “Alfie” had separated from his wife earlier in 2006.
By the time the 2007 Six Nations took place his teammates knew it, but Thomas had not publicly disclosed his sexuality.
“I was the captain of Wales, representing my country in a game that everyone has an opinion on,” Thomas told the documentary.
“When I say everyone, I mean three million people.
“At that time, I wasn’t sure who I was, who I was painting this image with… the reality is that I was something very different.
“Being surrounded by the Welsh team, the team, the environment, I received support from the people I really needed support.
“I was not discriminated against by any of the boys for being gay and I was celebrated by none of the boys for being gay.
“The boys in this locker room are going to slap me on the back and support me.
“So what the fuck are three million people gonna think?”
Wales were staring at the barrel of a wooden spoon as England burst into Cardiff on the final weekend of the Championship.
Professionally, the stakes were incredibly high with new head coach Gareth Jenkins already under significant pressure.
And, on the eve of the match, Thomas received the explosive news that a newspaper threatened to reveal his sexuality.
“The press had seized on this story about my sexuality,” he recalls.
“Gareth Jenkins called me. He wanted to say something but wasn’t sure if he was going to offend me.
“He was like, ‘Look, you know the press now? You know they hate the story that you are … you know? Well, you know what I’m trying to say, ain’t Gareth? Are you … you? ‘
To which Thomas replied: “You mean gay?”
“Fair play for them, they [the WRU] said to me: ‘They threaten to tell the story on Sunday the day after the game we are telling you now because we want you to know that if you want to get out of the game then that’s fine we will support fully your decision and send out a press release, ”he explained.
“I think they expected me to think about it but I was like, ‘I want to play the fucking game’.”
Play he did. Thomas put on a superb performance down center to help Wales avoid the dreaded slush, beating England 27-18, with 22 points coming from youngster James Hook.
“We knew it was huge. England at home,” Thomas’s teammate Tom Shanklin recalled.
“We knew if we won this it would at least give us some kind of hope.
“I knew how much pressure he was socially and as a Welsh captain. You are in the spotlight, directly in the crosshairs.
“Being captain of the country, playing like he did and having everything going on in the background – that just shows you the level of character and the strength of the man.
“I remember he came up to me after the game.
“We just hugged each other and he said, ‘I love you’. I said, ‘I love you’ back.”
All these years later, Thomas remains adamant that winning that day wasn’t about him.
“I wanted to win because I know what it means to be Welsh and beat England,” he insisted.
“It’s fucking bigger than me to be gay. It’s bigger than a story about me in a newspaper.”
Thomas later admitted that his sexuality had become an ‘open secret’ in Wales before speaking publicly in an interview in 2009.
Slammed episode three airs on BBC One Wales at 9 p.m. on Wednesday 5 January