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Football community loses an icon

Matt Phillips launched programs at three Richmond schools and coached at three others

B.C. High School Football is mourning the loss of one of its greatest contributors who made an immense impact on the sport in Richmond.

Matt Phillips passed away on Saturday at the age of 85 after a battle with cancer.

Born in New West, Phillips played collegiately at Pepperdine College in Los Angeles before taking his career back home to play for the B.C. Lions in 1957 as an offensive lineman. However, it was his passion for teaching and football where he would make his greatest impact, especially in Richmond where he helped launch programs at Steveston, Cambie and London. 

He also coached for three seasons at Palmer and made one year stops at McRoberts and Richmond High.

In 2016, Phillips was inducted into the B.C. Football Hall of Fame as a builder, along with the Richmond Sports Wall of Fame. He also was recognized for his 30-plus years of work as an official and is a past winner of the prestigious B.C. School Sports Honour Award.

It was just last week, 2018 Richmond Sports Wall of Fame inductees Ian Anderson and Doug Staveley reflected on the impact Phillips made on their lives. He coached them at Lord Byng in Vancouver and they later joined him as teachers at Steveston High where they eventually were passed the reigns of the football program.

“Neither of us would be here today if it wasn’t for Matt Phillips,” said Anderson, now 76. “He forgot more about football than I would ever know.”

In total, over 20 student athletes who played under Phillips went on to become coaches at the high school and community levels. 

Two more were Bill and Bruce Haddow who played for him on the junior varsity team at Cambie. They too would become lifelong friends and Phillips regularly visited Bill at his White Rock Beach Beer Company tasting room.

Phillips made the effort to attend the Haddows’ final home game at Boyd last October which concluded their four decade long coaching careers.

“I’ve known him since junior high at Cambie and we had reacquainted ourselves in recent years. He would regularly come down here and would love to sit down to talk about football and life in general,” said Bill who visited his good friend hours before he passed away and wore his old Cambie jersey at work this past weekend in tribute to him.

“I know he wasn’t in the greatest of health when he came to our final game but he wouldn’t miss it either. That’s just the kind of man Matt was.”

Phillips’ contributions to football didn’t stop in Richmond. 

He also helped launched the program at Lord Tweedsmuir in Cloverdale back in 2003 and that followed with a stint at Earl Marriott in South Surrey.

A service will be held on Saturday, Oct. 6 at 11 a.m. at Brighouse United Church in Richmond.