Catching up with: 'Dancing' Geoff Phillips
Long-time fans of the Genting Casino Coventry Blaze will hold many fond memories. Of progression, of lifting trophies, of making life-long friends, and of ‘Dancing’ Geoff Phillips.
For those who don’t know Geoff, he can only be described as an original ‘Superfan’ of the club. Dancing the night away to the Mavericks, he caught people’s attention and helped turn Blaze games into a spectacle, a place where people of all ages could feel comfortable. Making people laugh and smile, no matter what the score, those who he interacted with always left with a long-lasting happy memory.
So then, what ever happened to Dancing Geoff Phillips?
“To be honest, I lost a bit of interest as the game became more ‘professional’. At Solihull we would have a drink with the players in the bar at the front of the rink after each game, and at Coventry we always used to go to the 4P’s (The Four Provinces) afterwards. I got to know all the players that way. When the P's changed ownership and the club didn’t go there anymore, I sort of drifted away. On top of that, my wife Penny and I became more involved with village life where I live in Hampton, and got in with a crowd who used to drink on a Sunday evening which stopped me driving to Coventry.”
When did you last come to a Blaze game?
“I was actually at the 4-2 win over the Sheffied Steelers in February. I do try and go, but other things get in the way. I go to about 3 or 4 games a season, and have actually seen a game from the SkyLounge. Unfortunately, for me a long-time fan, I felt it was a poor performance but the people I was with loved it!”
Hockey seems to be a sport that people enjoy and become drawn to quite quickly. Do you remember when you first caught ‘the hockey bug’?
“I started watching at Solihull in Paul Thompson’s first season as coach. I had just split up with a girlfriend and a mate of mine took me along to a game against Swindon Ice Lords. I got hooked straight away. There was a fight between Derek Nicholson and one of the Ice Lords which was more theatre than anything else. My friend still goes to Solihull, but as you know I moved to Coventry. He took me onto the balcony behind the goal. I met another friend who used to sit in front of the ‘Frog and Nightgown’, and I eventually sat in front of him. My attraction to hockey came from the fact I liked skating. When I was about 14/15 I used to almost live at the rink, and even did a bit of speed skating. I suppose I was quite a good skater, and could go almost as fast backwards as forwards. I had a number of pairs of skates, and we always had them flat ground so that we could sharpen them ourselves before each session.”
So, moving to Coventry with the team, you became quite a cult-figure throughout the club’s British National League and early Elite League days, can you remember how the ‘Dancing Geoff’ persona started?
The term “Dancing Geoff” started in Solihull. As I said, I used to sit in front of an old cricket friend, Dave Barlee, and his friend Mike Preston who used to do the reporting on the Barons/Blaze. By now, my daughter had started coming with me, and we used to dance in our seats to the music, much to the annoyance of Barlee. For some reason, when they played the Mavericks ‘Dance the Night Away’, I stood on the benches and it seemed to amuse a few people, so I just did it more. Barlee would get so incensed at this he would start throwing water at us. Dave and I were asked to present an award for Player of the Month, and as we walked onto the ice, Grant Charman started playing the Mavericks, and I started dancing, much to the amusement of Kurt Irvine. More water was thrown!!!”
You mention Kurt Irvine there, he was also a hugely popular figure amongst the Blaze faithful. Tell us who were your favourite players?
“In the early days, my favourite player was Frenchie, Steve Chartrand. A great player. He had fantastic upper body strength and stick handling skills. He was a good skater with a fantastic temperament and about all else, a brilliant goal-scorer. Don Breau was a player I became friendly with. Nice guy. Hilton Ruggles was the best penalty killer I ever saw. He would hold the puck up with one hand whilst pushing players away with the other. Funny guy. There were lots of others, Gizmo (Gareth Owen), Smurf (Marc Twaite), Rocket Ron (Shudra). All great players. Off the ice, I suppose I had a really good relationship with Mike Shewan. It was great fun when he was playing for Solihull MK Kings and was living with me and Stevie Small at my house in Hampton. We had some great nights. I would like to think that Stevie and Thommo are still good mates even though I don’t see them as much.”
You have some fond memories of supporting the Blaze, give us some of your favourites?
“There are lots of memories, both at home and away. Barlee and I got into a water fight with some very large water pistols at Solihull once (seemingly a common theme of these two friends!). He tried to get me and I ducked, only for Dave to hit a guy clean in the face and soaked him. He bought beer for him for the rest of the game!! Going on the Scottish weekend’s was always fun, and doing the Mexican wave at Edinburgh when there were only Coventry fans in the rink! We would spread out around the rink, just to make it work. There was always fun and games at the hotels as well which used to go on till the early hours. I remember once I was standing by the bar when the team returned. Hilton placed a kit bag behind me. I turned around only to fall over the kit bag and did a full roll with my pint in my hand and didn’t spill a drop!
“There were always rivalries with other teams, and Guildford was one with their “Dodgey Carrot” mascot. We took carrots to one game, only for the security to confiscate them because they thought they could be used as offensive weapons. The best one was when we all had cut out faces of Thommo on sticks, so that when he came out all he could see was his face! “Dancin’, you are a git!” he said afterwards, much to the amusement of the rest of us. There were lots of others; reading newspapers as the opposition teams came out, different 12 days of Christmas songs. It was all good fun.
“I had a particular fondness of going to Peterborough, and used to play up to their fans quite a lot, so much so that they issued a bounty for my capture. One Blaze fan took a picture of me with a bounty bar on my head and posted it on their website. At Peterborough the refs used to come off the ice in front of the away fans. In one game, we had a particularly bad decision against us and Frenchie was kicked out of the game. As the ref came off the ice and walked past us, I followed him to the dressing room giving him all sorts of abuse. They never came off in front of us again!!!
“Overall though, I made some great friends, had some of the best times, and although we always wanted the team to do well, nobody really got upset if we lost.”
You’re well missed at the Skydome but what have you been doing with yourself instead of travelling the country with the Blaze?
“Over the last couple of years I have discovered the French game of Petanque or Boules as it is more commonly known. I had played a little in Hampton, but we then we had a friendly game against Solihull who brought along a Spanish guy. When I saw how he played I decided that this might be the sport to replace my first love which was cricket. I joined Solihull and have made it into the first team there. Last October I actually played in the Petanque Euro Cup. We lost in the first round, but at least I can say I played in the European Cup. In September, I will be representing the Heart of England region in the Regional Finals in Heyling Island. There will be about 600/700 people playing for 15 different regions in four divisions. There are 8 regions playing in division one of which we are one, each region has 8 teams of four playing, and I am playing in team 7. Not bad after two years. In 2024, when the Olympics are held in France, it may even become an Olympic sport, so who knows!”
Thanks for your time Geoff, I am sure there are many fans who will have enjoyed hearing from you. Will we see you at the Skydome again this season?!
“I start each season by saying I am going to go to more games, but never manage to. I shall be there without doubt, but not on a full-time basis.”
What about a special guest-appearance?
“I’m not sure a 64 year-old would be allowed on the ice! But, then again, if the club were to call, maybe I would. Though, I don’t think I’d be running around so much as before though!”
Thanks to Geoff for taking the time to speak to us.
Article: Craig Summerton