Bill Carne was delighted to bump into John Phillips as he took charge of a recent boxing show in the Pavilion at the Withybush Show Ground and chat to arguably the best-known man in Welsh Amateur Boxing...

IT would be hard to find someone more actively involved in their chosen sport than John Phillips because the retired postman from Narberth has been involved in amateur boxing for 45 years as a referee and judge - and is now official in charge of all shows held in the South West Region of Welsh Amateur Boxing

John is approaching his 80th birthday but remains as committed as ever and is also a keen representative of Carmarthen ABC so it is good to report that his achievements have finally been recognised because he has received the Carmarthenshire ‘Outstanding Services to Sport’ for 2015 and prior to that was invited to carry the Commonwealth Games baton when it passed through West Wales.

“I was honoured just to to be nominated by Dai Maskell of Carmarthen ABC for the award,” admitted John, “and had little thought of winning after coming runner-up three times in 1998, 1999 and 2000!

“When my name was called out I was stunned and to make it even more of a memorable evening I had my photograph taken afterwards with top rugby referee Nigel Owens and then former Welsh international Scott Quinnell, both of whom I admire greatly.

“It matched my selection to carry the Commonwealth Games baton as great memories, especially since I had the honour to carry it from Dylan Thomas’s boathouse in Laugharne to his house – and I will never forget the wonderful crowds and the big cheer they game me!”

Anyone who knows John will say that his commitment to amateur boxing is total as he takes responsibility for shows as far afield as Aberystwyth and Blaengwynfi, from Carmarthen to Pembroke.

An amazing statistic is that in those 45 years he has refereed over 45,000 rounds in over 12,500 bouts and has officiated at all the major championships other than the Olympic Games, where he has twice been on the reserve list for officials but no-one has dropped out to give him the chance his effort and experience deserves.

His amazing boxing journey has taken him all over Europe, Canada and the USA and a range of other places in over four decades - and he still enjoys his involvement now, particularly with regard to nurturing some of the promising younger referees and judges, like Steve Glover (Fishguard) and Mark Lewis (Pendine) who have come forward in recent years.

"I tend now to let the younger fellers do the refereeing because I want some of our newer officials to get in their training years before I finally step down some time in what I hope will be the distant future.

“I hope they can have the great experiences I enjoyed, because I reffed heavyweight bouts involving David Haye, Herbie Hyde, Henry Akinwande and Scott Gammer when they were amateurs, and a host of other very good youngsters before they turned professional.

There has always been a calm assurance about John whenever he takes to the ring and he has always made sure that both boxers know who is in charge from the outset, with his clear-cut commands and signals which also leave the audience in no doubt what he is asking of the boxers at all times.

"Sometimes the seniors might get a little carried away with themselves but they soon calm down," said John, "and they have to learn quickly that boxing is a very disciplined sport. A quiet early word usually pays off but if it doesn't then it is important to get them in their corner with their trainer for a few words of advice.

"One of the problems can sometimes be an over-eager parent getting carried away and coming ring-side to shout advice which is often based on nothing other than desperately wanting their boy to win.

"They have to be made to get out of that area quickly and not get so involved that they lose common-sense, and most are co-operative once they are told about it."

It all seems a long time ago now since John started out in boxing after he had played some cricket, football and rugby in his formative years for Narberth.

“I played in two losing Wiltshire Cup finals for Narberth AFC and one season on the wing for The Otters – the very year that Narberth won the Wiltshire Cup!

Then he went with a pal to watch a local boxing show and enjoyed it immensely – and by chance met up there with Jack Davey, one of the officials from Swansea and a gentleman in every way, who mentioned to John that the South Western Region was on the look-out for new officials.

Before he knew it John was involved in practical training and travelling all over the region with Jack, Tom Burgess and Ray Allen, the Hon Secretary of the Welsh ABA.

In the intervening years since 1971, John has been involved in some capacity or another in all those shows and as well as those countries mentioned at the outset has been a referee in France, Norway, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary and Germany and nearer home he has officiated at well over 100 Welsh Finals, including 21 seniors, which is certainly a post-war record and might be the most ever in Wales.

Then there's been seven British Finals he has been involved in at venues like London, Birmingham and Liverpool - and a proud moment when he was awarded a special medal to commemorate his involvement, which was presented by legendary Welsh boxer Jack Peterson at a show in the old Butlin’s Holiday Camp at Barry Island.

John has also refereed in an amazing five European Boxing Finals, three in Hungary, plus others in Edinburgh and London, plus two Olympic Games trials in Liverpool and Greece.

"If I have a disappointment amongst so many wonderful moments and meeting some pretty terrific sportsmen I suppose it would have to be the fact that I missed out on the Olympics," John told us, "because it has to every sports players' and administrator's dream to be there at some time."

"But I have been very lucky in what I have accomplished and I wouldn't have missed one second of it, despite all the travel around some interesting venues across South Wales and much further afield."