By Russell Kempson
It should have been a run-of-the-mill week in the life of Dave Phillips, combining his usual police duties on the streets of Chichester city centre in West Sussex with, in his guise as a Football League referee, taking charge of the Carling Cup first-round tie between Southampton and Torquay United at St Mary's Stadium. Normal routine, piece of cake.
But then all hell broke loose. The London riots flared, in August last year, and PC Phillips was hastily deployed to Croydon, in the south of the capital, to assist his hard-pressed colleagues. The week would become one of the most testing of a career spanning more than 14 years with the boys in blue. And as a man in black, too.
"I'd started my shift at 2pm on the Monday and was due to go home at about 10pm when the call came an hour before," Phillips recalled. "I kitted up and was on my way to Croydon. When we got there, it was in the dark and we were all chasing around streets we didn't know.
"We didn't finish until around 11 o'clock the next morning. When dawn was breaking, it looked like a scene out of the Blitz. Smoke was still billowing everywhere and you could smell it in the air. It was a really weird feeling. And I had to do a game in Southampton that night! I got home at about 2pm, had a couple of hours sleep, went to St Mary's and did the game [which Southampton won 4-1].
"I was exhausted but I knew I had the next three days off so that was fine. But at the end of the match, I had numerous missed calls on my mobile. I rang in work and was told I had to go to London again for three more days. But I did cry off from my match on that Saturday.
"It was a week of what you might call 'different challenges', a reality check. But that sort of thing can happen to you, it goes with the job. I have to say, though, with all what was going on in London, the support that we received from the general public was superb. I found that very humbling."
Phillips, 45, uses his man-management skills on the streets to good effect on the pitch. "Refereeing is not unlike policing," he said. "You're in among crowds, there is pressure, at times there can be volatile situations. A lot of the skill sets that we use in the Force carry across naturally to the football field. Mind you, compared to something like the London riots, football IS just a game."
Not a particularly gratifying game, though, when serious injury forces you to give up your fledgeling playing career, as it did with Dave in his early 20s. The promising goalkeeper fractured his right leg in a collision with a team-mate - "I heard a crack, I knew it straight away" - and broke it again on his first competitive game back. "I got caught on the shin in the same place and just knew it had gone again," Dave said. "My consultant said that another break and I might struggle to walk again so I knew that was it. It was not to be."
Not to be between the sticks, perhaps, but he took up the suggestion of his PE teacher, Rod Gill, who had advised him, at 14-years-old, to complete the Referee Course as "one day it may become useful". Dave remembered those words and exchanged his goalkeeping jersey for the whistle, progressing through the Sussex County League, Southern League and Conference and on to The Football League line in 2003. "I thought 'Well, if it all ends now, I'll still walk away a happy man'," he said. "Everything after that has been a bonus. What I've achieved has far exceeded what I ever expected. And I'm still living the dream."
In 2008, Phillips was promoted to the middle. "My first game, Brentford against Grimsby, I'll never forget that," Dave, now the South East regional coach and co-ordinator for Level 4 referees, said. "It went brilliantly, so smoothly. I've learnt a huge amount along the way and, to be honest, you never stop learning.
"To referee, you need awareness and 100 per cent focus. Teamwork, information and credibility are the three main ingredients and if you get those three in any decision you make, you're going to get it right most of the time. I suppose I'm still that bad person in black - and blue! - seven days a week but the key is enjoyment. I've always enjoyed it and always will. I just eat and breathe football."