Glanmor Griffiths: Force behind Principality Stadium construction dies aged 83

Glanmor Griffiths moved from a career in banking to rugby administration

Glanmor Griffiths, the man who ensured the Principality Stadium was built in Cardiff, has died at the age of 83.

During his time at the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU), Griffiths held the posts of treasurer, chairman and president.

Griffiths oversaw the city centre venue’s redevelopment in time for the 1999 World Cup hosted by Wales.

WRU chairman Richard Collier-Keywood said the game owes Griffiths “a huge debt for all his work on delivering what is now the Principality Stadium”.

Collier-Keywood added: “At the time it was one of the biggest engineering projects in western Europe and what it has delivered to the nation since 1999 has been incredible.

“Having filled three of the highest chains of office at the WRU – treasurer, chairman and president – over a period of more than 20 years of service to the game in Wales, his imprint will forever be evident in the history of the WRU.

“We thank him for his immense contribution to Welsh rugby and offer sincere condolences to his family and friends.”

Glanmor Griffiths WRU timeline

Treasurer 1994-2003Chairman WRU general committee 1997-2003Chairman Millennium Stadium plc 1997-2003Oversaw the financing, planning and construction of the Millennium StadiumWRU President – 2007Represented the WRU on the IRB (International Rugby Board, now World Rugby), Five Nations and Four Home Unions committee

Griffiths’ time at the WRU was not without controversy, involving disputes with fellow officials and with leading clubs in Wales.

In ensuring Wales hosted the 1999 World Cup, Griffiths struck a deal with French and English counterparts that guaranteed when they respectively hosted the 2007 and 2015 tournaments, some games were played in Wales.

Griffiths also negotiated a fixed-price contract of £130m with construction company John Laing plc for the stadium which led to them losing £26m.

In his own words – Glanmor Griffiths discussing the Millennium Stadium in 2021:

“You had to go back to 1994 for the first discussions about what we were going to do with the old National Ground, Cardiff Arms Park. Famous it might have been, but it was getting tired and out of date. The capacity was only 49,000 – 42,000 seated and 7,000 standing – and the hospitality and toilet facilities were simply not good enough.

“Some wanted to tinker around with the existing stadium, but the bigger plan was to create something that would be the envy of the sporting world. To get to Plan B we needed the full support of the WRU clubs.

“Their vote in backing our brave new world should never be underestimated. They knew money would be tight until the stadium began to deliver, but just look at what the returns are these days the game against New Zealand last week netting £4m.

“Many thought we would never get to the stage of being able to host the World Cup at our new home, never mind play a game in June. I often felt there were some who wanted to see the project fail, but the team I had working around me simply wouldn’t contemplate failure. Dick Larsen, Vernon Pugh, Pat Thompson and Russell Goodway were key characters in helping to deliver what was at the time the biggest engineering project in Europe.

“With the World Cup being hosted for the first time by Wales we knew we had to test the capacity of the stadium as we built it in order to get the required safety certificate. We invited South Africa, France, Canada and the USA to come to Cardiff to play at the new Millennium Stadium. Well, in the case of the Springboks, a half-built stadium!

“The impact Graham Henry was having on the Welsh team at this time was transformational. There was that epic win over England at Wembley in the final Five Nations tournament and then a winning tour of Argentina. But when I told him we would be playing South Africa and France he said joking ‘are you trying to kill off this Welsh team?’ They were two of the best teams in the world at the time. Graham was another fantastic ally and under him things were beginning to look brighter on the pitch. The only problem was we didn’t have a home pitch for them to play on as yet!

“The project team and our wonderful construction work force from the John Laing Group knew we had to pull a rabbit out of the hat to stage a game in June. We’d turned the pitch through 90 degrees, taken down four buildings surrounding the old Arms Park footprint and flooded the centre of Cardiff with more than 1,000 workers. To play the game we had to de-rig all the cranes and somehow get a pitch into the middle of the biggest building site in Wales.

“As far as the pitch was concerned, we settled on a paletised system that was being used successfully in America. It had to be something of this kind in order to get a pitch in and out for those early games. My big concern was where to grow the grass. Might it be sabotaged in the build-up to the World Cup if it was public knowledge where it was being grown and stored? In a bid to go for maximum security we approached RAF St Athan and got them to store the pallets and grow the grass between their runways. They had a perimeter fence and armed guards – perfect!

“It took dozens of low loaders to bring the pallets into the stadium. Once the biggest jigsaw in the world had been pieced together, they had to unlock it and take it back to St Athan only hours after the game had finished. To say I was nervous would be an understatement.

“We had to play four games with increased capacities in order to get up to the full 74,500 safety certificate for the opening game of the World Cup. We only had space for 28,000 against South Africa, but none of them, me included, will ever forget what they saw that day.

“The pitch came during the week of the game and on the Thursday, I learned that the workmen were taking bets on who was going to kick the first points through the new posts. I wanted to ensure the first person to put the ball between the uprights was a Welshman and so I got Neil Jenkins to come down and do the honours with all the workers watching him. They gave him a huge roar, but nothing like the roar he received a few days later when he actually became the first points scorer at the Millennium Stadium when he kicked a penalty to put Wales ahead in only the second minute of the match.

“Before the kick-off the Webb Ellis Cup was brought onto the field by the man who had received it from Nelson Mandela in 1995, Francois Pienaar, and our own Gareth Edwards. That moment sent a shiver down my spine, and I realised that the confidence with which I had told the world we would have a stadium ready in time was not misplaced. It was a taste of what was to come a few months later when the trophy was presented by HRH Queen Elizabeth to Australia’s winning captain, John Eales.”

2023-09-26 11:23:25
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