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Billy is Beijing-bound in highlight of career

PUBLISHED: 17:31 07 August 2008 | UPDATED: 13:30 05 October 2010

By LEN WHALEY THEY call the Olympic Games the greatest sports show on earth and for local boxing official Billy Phillips, his call to referee in Beijing marks the highlight of almost 50 years spent in his favourite sport. Phillips, a product of Stepney s

By LEN WHALEY

THEY call the Olympic Games the greatest sports show on earth and for local boxing official Billy Phillips, his call to referee in Beijing marks the highlight of almost 50 years spent in his favourite sport.

Phillips, a product of Stepney's Arbour boxing club, flies out to the 2008 Games this week proud to be the first British official to referee at the Olympics in 20 years.

"It's something I have worked hard to achieve, with support from a lot of good people in the game," said Phillips.

The referee, who also works as an electrician, has served his time in the amateur sport, becoming a trialist judge in 1977 before stepping up to become the man in the middle three years later.

As a young referee he travelled to club tournaments at venues all over north east London - sometimes working five nights a week with local amateurs.

He then moved up the ladder to make his mark on the international scene getting his call to officiate at an amazing FIVE world championship tournaments.

The Olympics is seen as the sport's pinnacle for boxers and officials and Phillips jets out this week for the 19-day Beijing boxing tournament, which starts on Saturday.

Like the boxers competing at the Games, the referees will be judged on their performances and the elite officials will earn selection for the final bouts.

Phillips' long journey to the pinnacle of the sport started back in his schoolboy days in Stepney, when he played football and boxed at the local Arbour Youth club, which produced some outstanding ring talent including Charlie Magri, who went on to win a world title as a pro flyweight.

Phillips boxed and earned success in a winning team at Arbour before following the example of his club-mate Richie Davies, who had been advised by club chief Jimmy Graham, an amateur boxing stalwart, to put something back into the sport by becoming an official.

The two boys from the 'kith and kin' club in the back-streets of Stepney have both reached the peak in their roles on different codes of the sport.

Davies has become one of Britain's leading pro referees on the world scene and Phillips has been selected for many international tournaments, including the Commonwealth games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 and Manchester four years later.

It was his work at the 2007 World Championships in Chicago that clinched his place in the games. Some 72 referees were in action in the US event and he was one of just 11 selected for the 2008 Olympics.

He has already made one trip to China on a pre-games get-together for the officials in June and he is experienced enough on the international scene to know that they will be strictly chaperoned with security surrounding the officials and little chance of socialising.

He also knows that the Games will mark his farewell to the world stage.

Phillips will be past his 60th birthday when the 2012 Olympics come to London and he will not be eligible for selection as a referee for the Games.

But he believes he will be followed by another local referee - Fairbairn House club official Mick Basi, from Newham, who has recently earned his place on the international panel of officials.

Phillips looks back on his own refereeing career with words of praise for some of the officials who have helped him in the past.

"Richie Davies spent many months as my tutor when I was first starting out, along with leading referees like Joe Gutteridge and Ollie Dixon who helped me a lot in those early days," he said.

He also expressed his gratitude for the encouragement he was given by the late Bill Cox, an ABA secretary and a leading light on the international scene, whose son Bill Cox junior has subsequently followed in his father's footsteps.

But Phillips saved his biggest thanks to his wife Barbara, who has encouraged him over the years and even served a spell as the club treasurer at Barking boxing club, where Phillips is still the chairman.

"I have had to spend a lot of time away from home but Barbara has supported me all the way," he smiled. "She is the one who deserves a gold medal.

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