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End of an era for Wanganui sports

FOND FAREWELL: John (JB) Phillips stepped down from his Wanganui Rugby Football Union roles with a farewell gathering at Cooks Gardens yesterday afternoon. PHOTO/LEWIS GARDNER 170814WCLGPHILLIPSFAREWELL1
FOND FAREWELL: John (JB) Phillips stepped down from his Wanganui Rugby Football Union roles with a farewell gathering at Cooks Gardens yesterday afternoon. PHOTO/LEWIS GARDNER

OVER half a century of sporting knowledge walked out the door at Cooks Gardens yesterday afternoon as John (JB) Phillips had his retirement farewell from the Wanganui Rugby Football Union.

The ceremony closed the door on 57 years of covering sport in this region and around the globe, and follows Phillips’ retirement from the sports desk of the Wanganui Chronicle in 1999.

“It’s been 57 years since I joined the Wanganui Chronicle, on this day,” he said.

In his youth, he had been an enthusiastic but not necessarily most skilled player – his first rugby game being the Keith St School vs Queens Park School match.

He later played one game on the wing for the St Augustine’s College 2nd XV when they were a player short.

“I tripped over my own feet with the tryline open.”

Cricket went much the same, his one match at wicketkeeper for the St Augustine’s 2nd XI saw him get knocked out by a ball to the head.

Phillips would see much more success in table tennis and softball, but it was in sports research and journalism where he would truly find his calling.

Attending the first New Zealand Journalist Cadet School in Palmerston North, Phillips was told by his lecturer that it was important to always keep their own statistics for reference.

“It went in my mind, so from there, I kept my own records of all sports.”

Phillips would fill many an exercise book with his meticulous facts and figures on Wanganui sports competitions and individual players.

Among his highlights was covering both Commonwealth Games staged in New Zealand – Christchurch 1974 and Auckland 1990 – while also making three trips to South Africa as a guest of SA Rugby Board.

He likewise went to West Germany as a guest of the government after being liaison officer for their rowing team at the world championships on Lake Karapiro in 1978.

Phillips would cover the 1991 Rugby World Cup in England, while making 25 trips to Australia while working as the sports editor for the weekly paper Kiwi News, set up by former Chronicle photographer Rob Graham in the 1990’s.

“I’m lucky I got around a bit,” he said.

“Locally, [highlights] would be beating the British Lions 12-6, that was Wanganui-King Country [in 1966].

“The Ranfurly Shield challenge in 1963, we got beat 14-12, Taranaki scored a last minute try.”

Phillips has watched in person the last 16 Shield challenges by Wanganui, while seeing every New Zealand union team at one time or another.

His farewell by the WRFU was attended by board and life members for a meal and drinks at the Event Centre at Cooks Gardens, where the scoreboard was changed to read “Farewell JB”.

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By Jared Smith – WANGANUI CHRONICLE