This week Bill Carne popped into the market at Haverfordwest’s Riverside to meet up with Phil Felice at his IT Stall to chat about Phil’s fascinating involvement with rugby in Malta, as well as in this country...

VISITORS to the indoor market on the Riverside at Haverfordwest will have seen Phil Felice sitting there at his stall where he sells laptops and computers and uses his expertise to repair all things to do with IT.

But what most customers or passers-by won’t know is that Phil played rugby in STP School and throughout his time with the Metropolitan Police – and represented Malta as well as spending a couple of seasons in the land of his fathers coaching their Overseas XV and generally helping to give the oval ball game a solid base there which has grown well in the meanwhile.

Phil himself is very much a Haverfordwest boy who attended the former Haverfordwest Secondary Modern and later at Sir Thomas Picton School, playing in a very good rugby team that included players of the calibre of Geraint John, Gordon Thomas, Tiny Havartt, Johnnie Griffiths and Anthony Christian, to name but a few, who were coached by Mr Gordon Rayner, Mr Peter Herbert and Mr Phil Raymond.

“I started out as a second row but soon switched to prop, where I played all the rest of my rugby,” Phil told us. “I also tried may arm at hammer throwing at one time and surprised myself by winning the school competition and coming third in the county,” admitted Phil with a chuckle!

At this time he also played a bit of cricket with the old Rosemarket team where a number of players came from the Murphy family. He batted and bowled there and says that his claim to fame is bowling his old school pal Gordon Thomas, now the Sports Editor of the Western Telegraph, in a youth cup match against Hook.

But it was much later, almost at the end of his playing days and his work in the Metropolitan Police, that he became involved in Maltese Rugby.

Phil retired from the Met in 1988 and decided to take a year out in Malta after being approached to try and set up a rugby association there. He was found a job there and soon had several teams off the ground, plus a league structure and rules which are still used today, thanks to the wonderful enthusiasm of several local residents who love the game like he does.

Then Phil came back to Pembrokeshire and played reserve team rugby at Haverfordwest for a season with the likes of Andy and Ceri Curtis, Gwynfor and Gerwyn Howells before being invited by Brian Hearne and Ian Thomas to play with Llangwm at Pill Parks.

“I had a great time at both clubs with some real characters but then decided it was time to retire because I was beginning to feel the knocks,” said Phil, “but some time later, quite out of the blue, I received a surprised phone call from Malta which started me off again.

“Malta was by now trying to get officially recognised by FIRA and it was agreed they could join, subject to playing in qualifying matches for the next World Cup and so I joined my younger brother John, who was a very good hooker or flanker, on the plane out in readiness to train for their opening match, against Belgium!”

Sadly, there was to be no fairytale ending because Phil, John and Co lost the match 28-10.

“But there was a crowd of over 2,000 as we played in red and white quarters and it was an emotional time as we were singing the national anthem.

“It was to be my only cap but brother John went on to also play against Moldova and Morocco.”

Phil’s association with Maltese Rugby was again renewed in 2007 when he was employed by Sage Accounting to work there when the country was changing over to the Euro, with his wife Cheryl, plus children Jazz and Jack, also living out there.

“Almost before I got out of the airport I was approached by an official from The Malta Overseas Club which had just lost its coach and he asked me if I would take over the reins against the five other strong clubs on the island who, coincidentally, were all competing for a trophy that had been donated years before by another Haverfordian!

“I agreed to give it a try and they organised for me to take my coaching badges as I looked after a team that included players from the UK, New Zealand, South Africa, Botswana alongside a very good French player who was working there.

Phil’s teams came second in both seasons he was involved and one of his proudest moments came when he convinced a top Maltese water polo player called Clayton Cassar that his aggressive play was better suited to the oval ball game.

“Clayton wasn’t convinced when I told him he could become the most-capped Maltese Rugby player but Clayton is still going strong as a key cog in the machine and I felt really honoured me with one of his international shirts as a thank you before I returned to Pembrokeshire.”

Going back to his teenage years, Phil left STP School at 16 and immediately enlisted as a cadet with the Metropolitan Police Force, and did so well that he was captain of his house team, one of four used by the Mets to help train such young employees in their four districts.

At 18 he was posted to Heathrow Airport and played for Staines RFC, which had eight senior teams and Phil did well to eventually claim a spot in the second XV because he was moved to Chigwell and turned out for Old Bancroftians, who played a more social form of the game, and he was joined by brother John when he was working for a while in London.

Phil also had a season with Blackheath, regarded as a top club in those days and he did turn out for the first team in one midweek match before going back to Old Bancroftians to finish his rugby playing days in the capital.

Phil still keeps a weather eye on local rugby, especially in Haverfordwest and Llangwm, but is a big Scarlets’ fan and gets along to watch as many games as he can at Parc y Scarlets.

“I still love the game and have very fond memories of my own involvement in Malta and the UK, especially in Pembrokeshire, and I hope those who take part today can have as much fun out of their involvement as I did,” said Phil Felice with a typical chuckle!