|Sumo and Reckless 2012|
The next in the spotlight is a goalkeeper who is simply loved at Underhill. Legends are a subject that is always open to discussion and opinions, but there are some players who just are.
Gary Phillips was born in St Albans in September 1961 and up until the age of 13 he wanted to be a centre forward but as he puts it “I was a little bit crazy so became a goalkeeper”.
Representing South East Schools he was spotted by Watford FC but hardly got past the ‘training in the car park stage’. In 1976 scouts at Southampton picked him out and he signed schoolboy terms staying for two years. “I was training with Peter Osgood, Laurie McMenemy, Bobby Stokes, Peter Rodrigues and Mick Channon”
He joined West Bromwich Albion on his 17th birthday in 1978 then managed by Ron Atkinson. “I was living in digs near Dudley and my neighbour used to take me to training and his name was Brian Robson”. Following a Bees v WBA mid season friendly Gary was poached by Barry Fry in the New Year 1981 for his rebuilding plans at Barnet. The fee at the time was colossal in non league terms, allegedly in the region of £12,500. It was to turn out to be a canny investment for the Bees and ultimately one of the Barnet bargains of the decade.
Gary made his debut at Bath City on 20th January 1981 in the following line-up. Barnet lost 1-5 in front of 547 spectators! Hardly an auspicious start.
Gary Phillips, Jimmy Hendrick, Steve Foody, Steve Robinson, Kevin Millett, Russell Townsend, Steve Brinkman, Gary Sargent, Gary French, Martin Sperrin, Colin Barnes. Sub: Gary Hughes
For a big man, and by now he had attained the frankly harsh nickname of Sumo, Gary’s agility was exceptional and he was soon hero-worshipped at Underhill in what was a team that certainly under achieved. Week in week out Phillips was the star and reserved a magnificent performance for Match of the Day Cameras in the FA Cup tie v Brighton in 1983. The club actually made a great deal of extra money out of the tie as full back Graham Pearce was transferred to the Seagulls for some £30,000. Gary laughed, “At one point I was going to be part of that deal Baz told me - yeah ok. That Barnet team had a great bunch of lads, Edwin Stein, Russell Townsend, Colin Barnes and of course Nicky Evans”. Such was his ability; Gary was voted Player of the Year in 1982 and 1984.
After a 0-4 defeat at Carshalton Gary and five other players were frankly comically transferred listed and he was snapped up by Brentford for a bargain £5,000 making some 140 appearances at Griffin Park. “I was really happy there and was fortunate to play in the Associate Members Cup Final at Wembley when we lost 1-3 to Wigan”.
After a short spell at Reading he rejoined Barnet in 1988 on crisis loan as cover for Steve Humphries, who had broken his leg, and an injured Andy Lomas - he received a hearty welcome from the Underhill faithful.
However you can’t take the Barnet of the boy and he rejoined the club on a permanent basis in December 1989. “I had been keeping an eye on the club and things had certainly improved and it was more of a professional set up. It seemed every week another top quality player would show up at training”.
In 1991 Barnet won promotion to the League and Gary played in every league game. Gary made over 300 appearances for Barnet in all.
After promotion to Division 2 in that infamous summer of 1993 and yet another Phillips Player of the Year award, the club was in financial and administrative turmoil. The FA offered free transfers to the players before Ricky George stepped in as the new Chairman and asked Sumo to become player-manager. He summoned up strength and resolve to assemble a squad just in time for the start of the season.
“The time was a topsy-turvy one for me as immediately after the defeat by Chelsea in the FA Cup Ray Clemence came in as full time manager”
Gary probably saved his greatest performance in a Bees shirt to last as he starred in the Bees 1-0 victory over Manchester City at Underhill in September 1994. Dougie Freedman scored in the first minute but Gary made save after save from the likes of Quinn, Walsh, Summerbee, Beagrie, Lomas and McMahon.
He moved into management and coaching and has since had managerial experience at Aylesbury, Hemel Hempstead and Grays Athletic and coaching positions at QPR, Luton Town, Wycombe and Stevenage amongst others.
Gary “came home” again in 2011 at least for a while spell as goalkeeping coach and still keeps a close relationship with Barnet FC. Whenever Barnet Football Club throw a party and need an Ambassador, an auctioneer, a guest speaker, a 'face', as long as there is a buffet Sumo will be there!
He is currently employed by Stevenage FC but he will be back again for another taste of the Amber and Black at some point mark my words!
Finally, one of the all time greatest Barnet Football Club tales involved Gary – he went on a short loan with Enfield, must have been around 1992, and while warming up one fan shouted, “ere Phillips you are sh**!” Gary's response? “Yeah that's why I am here mate!” - and that is what club legends are made of.