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What! A Welsh trail with no rugby!

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the Cardiff heritage trail has very little sport. I can recall two mentions. One is hidden in the John Bull Stores item, which tells us that Mark Fay represented Wales at water polo. We also mentioned Danny Abse’s love of Cardiff City Football Club. (Can you think of more?) But there is no mention of rugby!

Gwyn Prescott of Cardiff Rugby Museum has kindly sent us information about Raoul Hector Foa, who was an early pioneer and captain of Cardiff Rugby Football Club and who was Jewish.

Raoul as club captain (middle row – holding the ball) in 1878-9 in the oldest surviving club team photograph on the Cardiff Rugby Museum website:

Courtesy of Cardiff Rugby Museum.

Raoul was the son of Octave Foa (born Marseilles) and Adele Foa (nee Fermi) (born Toscana, Italy). His father was a banker. He was born in London in 1857 and educated at University College School, London, where he may have first played rugby. He came to Cardiff to work as a bank clerk but seems to have lived here only for a few years. Rugby had only just arrived in Wales in the early 1870s so he was very much a pioneer of the game in Wales. Cardiff RFC was formed in 1876-7 and Raoul played regularly as a half back or three-quarter for the club in its first three seasons on at least 28 occasions. He figures frequently in press match reports of the period and was obviously a talented player. He acted as secretary in his second year and was captain in his third season 1878-9, when Cardiff were defeated in the South Wales Challenge Cup Final.

The team photo for that season is the earliest surviving club photo and is in a prominent position in the Cardiff RFC clubhouse at the Arms Park. His name can also be seen on the captains board there. So, Raoul was a prominent and valued member of the club in its early years and he helped to establish Cardiff RFC as one of the leading clubs in Wales. We don't know (and would like to know!) if he continued playing rugby after he left. As far as we are aware, sadly, he doesn't seem to have kept in touch with the club in later life. Whilst in Cardiff, he was actively involved in organising and participating in various athletic sports days. He also played cricket for Cardiff CC and for Kensington Park CC after he returned to London. He served as a second lieutenant in the 3rd Glamorgan Artillery Volunteers. He enjoyed a very successful career in banking, spending some time in Egypt. In 1902, he acquired the Holywell Park Estate, near Wrotham, Sevenoaks, Kent, and was appointed High Sheriff of Kent in 1932. He died in 1935.

An extract from the Western Mail which refers to Raoul's memorial service held at the West London Synagogue in 1935.

Courtesy of Cardiff Rugby Museum.

During the 1880s, his brother Albert became a prominent Cardiff "docksman". Here is a local newspaper reference to his death in Weston Super Mare which briefly outlines his time in Cardiff.

Courtesy of Cardiff Rugby Museum.

The Cardiff Rugby Museum has a Digital Archive which collects memories, mementos, reminiscences and records: “Bringing Cardiff's unique rugby heritage to life, it aims to capture, preserve, celebrate and share over 144 years of history.” As can be seen on their website, CRM already has a huge collection of memorabilia etc., much of it very precious in sporting terms.

The collection is being added to all the time. All this is now in safe storage but it is hoped at some time in the future that a permanent museum will be established. The name "Cardiff Blues" is being discontinued and will shortly be officially replaced by "Cardiff Rugby". They will revert to playing in their traditional blue and black colours, similar to those in the photograph above.

Part of Cardiff Rugby Museum’s mission is also to find out more about the players of the past. If you have any more information on Raoul Foa, please let us know, and we will share it with them.

Written by Mike Hawkins, JHASW/CHIDC Volunteer.

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