Boleyn People - Mark Phillips

For avid Hammer Mark Phillips, working at the Academy of Football is a real dream come true
There are few, if any, more passionate West Ham fans than U18s’ coach Mark Phillips. And it is perhaps little wonder considering his first experience of claret and blue was Bobby Moore’s testimonial game in 1970.

Just nine years old at the time, crammed in to a packed Upton Park; it would leave a lasting imprint on the youngster. You could call it love at first sight.

Forty-six years later and the passion, pride and commitment is as real and as raw as ever.

However, things could have been very different as Phillips’ Dad Kerry, despite hailing from the East End, was a Queens Park Rangers fan.

Phillips, like his Mother Ingrid, chose to follow the iconic claret and blue.

Born in Camberwell, Phillips reminisced about his first visit to the Boleyn Ground: “My first game at West Ham was Bobby Moore’s testimonial, 1970; it was a 3-3 draw against Celtic.

“I was nine and I think there and then, I knew West Ham was the team for me. When you’re that age, it’s not just the game, but the atmosphere. It was a full house that night, the captain of England’s testimonial, so you can imagine the atmosphere that night. It was crazy; that was it for me.”

Since then, Phillips, a keen player himself, has followed his beloved West Ham home and away, as much as possible.
Despite juggling the demands of working at one of the countries busiest and most prestigious academies, he made the recent pilgrimage, midweek, to the South Coast to see the Hammers recover from a goal down to defeat Bournemouth 3-1 in some style.

Looking back at some of his fondest memories, you can’t blame him for selecting the FA Cup triumphs of 1975 and 1980: “I was there for Di Canio’s goal against Wimbledon, but that’s not the best goal I’ve seen, I’d have to go Trevor Brooking, 1980 FA Cup final.

“I was there for that and the 1975 one too. I wasn’t at the 1964 one; I was only three to be fair!”

Even the defeat in Cardiff, 2006, is a source of great pride: “Obviously it was disappointing to lose in the final but we played so well that day, we really acquitted ourselves well. I thought we were excellent and the rest of the country still talks about what a good performance we put in.

“We were massive underdogs that day, but we outplayed them really. Having been there in 2006, it would be nice to do them next week in the Cup. Three times in one season is some way to paying them back.”

And what about his favourite memories of being at the Boleyn Ground itself?

Phillips continued: “Probably my fondest memories are in the south bank, they used to have a cage in that corner, I used to stand in that, great memories in there.

“That’s the corner now where Andy Carroll always seems to celebrate in front of!”

While the games, the goals and the players are of course crucial, it’s the companionship and the friendships made which  Phillips believe set West Ham apart from any other club.

He explained: “A while ago there were only a few hundred people who would go to the away games so you got to know everyone. Nowadays more people go so you don’t know everyone but I’d say I know most regulars.

“That’s what it’s all about really, that community, being part of something. We’re not kidding ourselves, we haven’t been blessed with trophies, but that feeling of being part of the club is very special, that’s what it’s all about.”

Having recently celebrated his ninth anniversary working at the Academy of Football, four of which he’s been a permanent member of staff; he recounted how he came to join his beloved Hammers.  

“I was Under 10 coach at Arsenal and was recommended to Tony Carr, then head of the Academy. He appointed me, from there I’ve moved up coaching the U12, U15, U16 – I’ll be first team one day!”

At this point, Tony Carr, within earshot, interjects jovially – “Mark’s the worst decision I’ve ever made!”

It is this example of camaraderie, and many others, that helps make the Academy of Football the place it is to work.

Now living up the road in Brentwood, Phillips continued: “It’s a dream of mine to work at the Academy. Freddie Sears making his debut was a big moment, now we’ve got the likes of Reece Oxford and Josh Cullen doing well. 

“I get to know them very well which is definitely one of the perks of the job, I get a huge sense of pride from it. It’s a very emotional feeling when you see a player you coached play for the West Ham first team.

“It’s even that bit more special when they’re West Ham fans themselves. Every player here will tell you that I’m biased toward them instinctively. In sessions, I’ll always pass to a West Ham fan first; they always get the ball first!”

Another perk of the job is working closely with two-time Hammer of the Year Steve Potts, now the U18’s manager. 

“I didn’t actually know Steve until Tony brought him in about four, five years ago. I used to pay to watch him play but don’t tell him I said that!

“He was assigned to work with the U16s together and we’ve worked well ever since. I probably see more of him then I see my wife these days! We get on really well, at work and also socially.”

While Phillips clearly has fond memories of the past, and is enjoying his current role trying to help the U18s finish in the top four, is he also looking ahead to Club’s bright future. 

“I don’t like to look at individuals, but we have some very good players with lots of potential coming through. 

“As for the new stadium, I was initially sceptical, but as we’re getting closer to it, I am really excited about it. I’ve been to a few events there and it’s going to be great, a really important move for the Club.

“There were some sceptical fans from other clubs who said we’d never fill it, but I think we will, from what I’ve heard we’re on course. I really can’t wait for the first game of next season.”