KELVIN THOMAS: In-depth profile of the new Cobblers chairman

Kelvin Thomas has got football in his blood.
SETTLING IN AT SIXFIELDS - new Cobblers executive chairman Kelvin Thomas (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)SETTLING IN AT SIXFIELDS - new Cobblers executive chairman Kelvin Thomas (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
SETTLING IN AT SIXFIELDS - new Cobblers executive chairman Kelvin Thomas (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

The new Cobblers executive chairman took control at Sixfields last week, three years after relinquishing the chairmanship of Town’s Sky Bet League Two rivals Oxford United.

Thomas had been at the helm at the Kassam Stadium for four years, having taken on the chairmanship in 2008, but stepped away from football to concentrate on building up something of an internet radio portfolio in the USA.

A glance at Thomas’s Linkedin page will tell you he is the co-owner and director of Radio Customs, a ‘multi channel internet radio platform’, which houses the stations Muddy Country Radio and Shaq-Fu Radio, which is a station developed in conjunction with legendary NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal.

Thomas is a director of both stations.

But although music may be the food of part of his life, football is also at least one of the courses, and not just because he likes to run league two football clubs!

Thomas is also a director and co-founder of the ‘daily fantasy football game’ called Select Your Team, and the sport is clearly close to his heart, which is no surprise when you look a little closer at his family history.

“I did play football, and my grandfather played for Fulham and Crystal Palace,” says Thomas.

“I was lucky enough to have an article about me and my grandad, and my family in the Fulham programme not so long ago, which was very nice.”

Kelvin’s grandfather was Bob Thomas, something of a striking legend at Craven Cottage, where he scored 55 times in 167 league appearances, gracing the same pitch as the likes of Bedford Jezzard and Jimmy Hill.

Bob also played for Crystal Palace and Plymouth Argyle, and his brother Dave - Kelvin’s great uncle - also played League football for Plymouth, Watford and Gillingham.

And the League connections don’t stop there, as Kelvin’s cousin, Geoff Pitcher, was also a professional footballer playing at Colchester, Brighton and Millwall among others in a pretty nomadic career.

WEMBLEY WINNERS - Kelvin Thomas and Chris Wilder (far right) celebrate Oxford United's promotion to the Football League in 2010, with Alan Hodgkinson (second from left)WEMBLEY WINNERS - Kelvin Thomas and Chris Wilder (far right) celebrate Oxford United's promotion to the Football League in 2010, with Alan Hodgkinson (second from left)
WEMBLEY WINNERS - Kelvin Thomas and Chris Wilder (far right) celebrate Oxford United's promotion to the Football League in 2010, with Alan Hodgkinson (second from left)

So what about Kelvin? Did he ever strut his stuff out on the pitch?

“I played when I was younger,” says Thomas. “I was a central midfielder, and I was just a bit of an athletic lump really.

“I played non-League for Dulwich Hamlet, Croydon, Banstead and I’m a qualified coach as well, both over here and in the States.”

Thomas, born in Lewisham and a West Ham United fan thanks to spending most of his weekends as a youngster with his nan in Canning Town, is relishing the chance to get his teeth into his new role at the Cobblers.

After completing the takeover last week, Thomas, who turns 43 next week, said one of the main attractions to taking ownership of Northampton was the fact that Chris Wilder is the manager.

Thomas was the man who appointed Wilder as Oxford United manager in 2008, tempting him away from Halifax, and I asked him what it was about Wilder that grabbed his attention in the first place.

“There were a couple of things at that time,” revealed Thomas.

“Firstly, he did a very good interview, and at the time it was relatively attractive that he had experienced administration, because I wasn’t sure at the time how we were going to move forward exactly at Oxford.

“There were financial problems at the time I went in there, and there was talk that it might not be great, so that (Wilder’s experience) had an attraction.

“But in reality, he was highly recommended by a good friend of ours, Alan Hodgkinson.

“Chris was highly recommended by him, and he interviewed very well, he knew the players, he knew the league, and he had managed a lot of games at a relatively young age.”

Thomas and Wilder proceeded to guide Oxford away from the lower reaches of the Conference, with the pair enjoying a fruitful time at the Kassam.

The chairman admits he and Wilder do have ‘a bond’, but that they both know business will always come first when it comes to decision time at Sixfields.

“We had success at Oxford, bearing in mind that when I took over there we were 18th in the Conference, and when Chris came in we were 13th in the Conference,” said Thomas.

“We were also facing a points deduction that could have left us bottom, and we went from there to being promoted through the play-offs in front of 42,000 people at Wembley in the space of 18 months.

“Because you have had that success you do form a bond, and Chris is a friend, but it is also a business relationship as well and he understands that.

“I also understand that, but Chris has done very, very well at Northampton.

“What he did when he first came in, to take the club from where they were to keep them up, and now they are third in the league with a budget that is certainly not the biggest in the league, possibly not in the top seven.

“So he has done well.”

There’s little doubt that being in charge of a football club is a full-time job in its own right, so is Thomas confident he can juggle that with running his various businesses on the other side of the Atlantic?

The answer to that question is a resounding yes, as he has done it before while at Oxford, and he sees no problems arising from his time at Northampton, stating the work at the Cobblers will be the ‘focus’.

“What seemed to work at Oxford, and I did it for two years there, I would say people probably didn’t even realise I was doing it, because I tend to do more when I am in America,” said Thomas.

“The poor staff at Oxford, and Mary, my former PA there, will tell you, that they used to take bets who would get the first email while I was away because of the time difference.

“I can’t put a timeframe on it in terms of how long I will be here (in the UK), but this (the football club) is going to be a focus for us.”

Thomas is still very much at the ‘getting the feet under the table’ stage at Sixfields, but he is a man with ambition.

He will have hopes for what he and his fellow directors, David Bower and Mike Wailing, want to achieve, but he isn’t about to start making any extravagant promises or over-reaching statements.

“We haven’t necessarily set long-term goals,” said Thomas.

“The long-term goal is to be as successful as we can be, and we need to get to understand what the club is about first.

“We need to get to understand how it is structured, how it operates internally, and once we know that we can then perhaps start thinking about plans, and implementing those plans.”

So there you go.

It sounds like it is going to be a steady process, a slow build on hopefully strong foundations, and I am reminded of one of the key statements made by Thomas at his unveiling as the new chairman last week, where he said ‘it’s important for us to under-promise and over-deliver’.

The vast majority of Cobblers fans will definitely settle for that, especially after the traumatic past few months.