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Keith Thomas to step aside for new Port Adelaide CEO

Football

Port Adelaide Football Club will have a new day-to-day leader from November 1, Michelangelo Rucci reports.

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Keith Thomas will leave his office as the Port Adelaide Football Club chief executive on October 31, at the end of the AFL financial year.

Thomas has confirmed to InDaily that he did offer in April to extend his 10-year stay at Alberton for an extra 12 months.

The Port Adelaide board has opted to seek a new day-to-day leader with current executive general manager Matthew Richardson the frontrunner for the role.

Thomas will serve as club chief executive for the last time either on Friday night during the Port Adelaide-Richmond AFL preliminary final at Adelaide Oval or, if the Power advances, at the historic night grand final at the Gabba in Brisbane on Saturday week.

“The best-and-fairest count for the John Cahill Medal will be my last official function on (Friday) October 29 and I will be gone on October 31,” Thomas told InDaily.

“I am not a great straddler: I am all-in or all-out. This year, I stayed all in,” added Thomas who originally had intended to leave Port Adelaide in May after his successor had experienced the club’s fourth AFL game in Shanghai, China.

This changed in early March when the COVID pandemic in China forced the Shanghai game against St Kilda to be cancelled. By April, with the AFL competition forced into recess, Thomas made an offer to Port Adelaide president David Koch to stay on through the 2021 football financial year that ends on October 31.

“I did so out of concern for the club when it looked to be very hairy for everyone, not just football,” Thomas said. “I was fully engaged in what the pandemic was demanding in club leadership and was offering to keep the club steady for another 12 months.

“After a couple of months, with some clarity on where football was with the rerun to play in June, the board felt the situation had stabilised to allow them to look at a new chief executive.”

Richardson, a former management-team staffer at the SA Cricket Association (1995-2001) and SANFL club chief executive at Port Adelaide (2004-2008) has worked in Port Adelaide’s AFL executive team since May 2008.

The other oft-mentioned contender is lawyer and former AFL player agent Craig Vozzo who currently is football chief at AFL powerhouse West Coast in Perth. He is a former Port Adelaide player, famously gained from West Adelaide for future Crows premiership ruckman Shaun Rehn.

Thomas, a Norwood premiership player, joined Port Adelaide in 2011 during the club’s darkest hours when it was financially at risk and could have lost its AFL licence. In his decade as club chief executive, Thomas has negotiated Port Adelaide through the transfer of its licence from the SANFL control to “independence” with the AFL; the move from Football Park to Adelaide Oval; the establishment of AFL reserves teams in the SANFL league competition; partnerships in China and critical new faith from a rebellious fan base.

Thomas also led Port Adelaide through the emotional distress of the death of AFL-listed player John McCarthy during his end-of-season trip to Las Vegas in September 2012.

Thomas is noted as the strongest backer of senior coach Ken Hinkley, particularly with the four-year contract extension signed at the end of the 2017 season when Gold Coast made a move to secure Hinkley as its new coach.

“In 2011, the Port Adelaide community was agitated with where the club was at,” Thomas said of the period known the club’s “darkest chapter” since its AFL entry in 1997.

“It took a long time to convince them that change was afoot to return the club to its traditional roots and values,” added Thomas who was first seen as an “SANFL plant” while the club’s licence was the political prize of warring AFL and SANFL leaders.

Thomas, 59, remains uncertain on his future assignment.

“My intention is to see this job through to the end before looking at the next step,” Thomas said. “I will take a breather and wait for my energy to return.”

Meanwhile, at the Adelaide Football Club the refit of the Crows football department will continue with a former Port Adelaide staffer – but not fitness guru Darren Burgess as originally intended.

Adelaide is poised to hire physiotherapist and sports scientist Tim Parham, who was part of  Burgess’ team at Port Adelaide before joining him at English Premier League club Arsenal in July 2018.

Parham would replace Steve Saunders who will is expected to join the Geelong Football Club.

Burgess is expected to remain in the AFL system with Melbourne.

During the AFL season, you can read news and insights from Michelangelo Rucci – SA’s most experienced and credible football writer – every Friday in InDaily.

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