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My Story So Far: Phil Skingsley

Phil Skingsley

Published 1st April 2017

 I was born in Horsham in 1947. We lived in Bennetts Road just opposite the field, where I would spend many hours playing, climbing trees, picking blackberries and occasionally scrumping apples from a large garden. When I was about seven, we moved to nearby Bethune Road and then St Leonard’s Forest provided hours of enjoyment. I loved exploring and the feeling of being surrounded by nature. They were in some respects halcyon days as I didn’t have a care in the world.

About five years later, we moved to the Needles estate and luckily enough our house was again close to a playing field and what was called the High Woods. So I was still in my element, exploring and having fun! I progressed from Chesworth School to Collyer’s Grammar School. Although I was a bright enough boy, academic study wasn’t high on my agenda and I would do just enough to get by and scrimp on my homework so I could spend more time playing football on the field. At Collyers I was also selected to play cricket, but my heart wasn’t in it.

My parents didn’t really pay much attention to my school life, so I decided to leave school aged 15, much to the chagrin of the headmaster. Luckily, through a family friend, I was able to secure an electrical apprenticeship at the Clockhouse Brickworks in Capel (owned by the London Brick Company). This meant spending one day a week at Crawley College and the rest of the time learning the trade at the brickworks.

Although it was decades old and a very dirty, dusty place, I learnt so much, as a maintenance electrician had to turn his hand to just about anything, both electrical and mechanical. It was a fantastic job for me and I won the Best Apprentice of The Year award from the London Brick Company for three successive years from 1965, of which I was very proud. I was under the tutelage of the foreman/chief electrician Roy Macklin, who still lives in the Horsham area. He taught me skills that have lasted me a lifetime.

In 1966, having played for Horsham Reserves, I was selected to play for the first team. It would be fair to say that football was a major part of my life then and Basil Dawson, then sports editor of the West Sussex County Times, was a great supporter of mine, giving me lots of good write-ups. He handed out the occasional rough one as well!

We played in the Athenian league and participated in Sussex Senior Cup matches and in the Mithras Floodlit Cup, where we faced top quality opposition including Dagenham and Guildford City. At one p oint, Pat Tobin, Horsham FC manager, suggested that I went for a trial at Queens Park Rangers as I’d been watched by their scouts, but I turned down the chance as I had an apprenticeship to complete and - to be honest - I didn’t think I was good enough.

I may be the only Sussex footballer to have the unenviable record of having appeared in three successive Sussex Senior Cup Finals and lost them all. With Horsham, we lost to Southwick and Eastbourne United, and with Worthing we lost to Littlehampton. I did win two Brighton Charity Shield medals, one with Horsham and one with Worthing. However, they didn’t make up for the disappointment of the SSCF losses.

Everything seemed to be going fine in my life but it all changed when I was made redundant from the brickworks. I walked away with my last pay packet of £18 and that was it. A few months later, the engine on my car blew up and I was also asked to leave Horsham FC after being involved in a fight with another player. Luckily, former manager Ted Streeter asked if I wanted to join him at Worthing, which I did.

These events made me think about my future, so through a friend I contacted an agency that provided engineers to the oil industry and I secured my first overseas posting in the Sahara Desert. Being young and naïve, I arrived in Libya, where there was still some unrest after the King had been overthrown by Gaddafi’s regime. I really didn’t feel safe as most westerners were viewed with a great deal of suspicion. If you add to that the fact that it was extremely hot and I was a ginger haired, freckled-faced, pale-skinned young man, then you can understand how difficult it was for me to adapt to life there.

I then went to Nigeria to work offshore on oil rigs. Again, it was only when I arrived that I realised how badly the recently-ended Biafra War had affected the south-eastern state where I was based. It had effectively been blockaded and starved into submission. Although we were supposed to be stocked with regular food supplies on the rigs, very often we ran short and resorted to fishing to keep stocks up. Unfortunately, I didn’t like fish!

On one occasion, we had almost run out of food and were waiting for supplies, although it was not easy to source food in a country gripped by turmoil. Word went around that a rig boat was on its way with food supplies, so we eagerly awaited its arrival. When it docked, there was an awful stench emanating from under the canvas on the boat. The Nigerian cooks lifted it to find piles of rotten food and I can still picture in my mind one of the cooks holding the end of a large sausage whilst half of it was moving around, as it was full of maggots! He snapped off the bad half of the sausage and kept the better half. That was part of our food supply for the next few weeks!

I had lots of adventures in Nigeria, with regular helicopter trips or boat rides to other rigs. Whenever I returned to Horsham, I was keen to share my stories with anyone who would listen. I completed a year’s contract in Nigeria and then decided I needed some stability back in Horsham as the constant travelling in those days was extremely tiring.

Jobs weren’t easy to come by, so I spent the best part of 1972 enjoying myself, spending a lot of my time in The Bear Inn at Market Square. I started playing football again for Horsham YMCA until I unfortunately broke my leg the following season.

Over the next few years, I worked as a  sales engineer for Loctite Corporation, before again heading off to the Sahara Desert. I enjoyed it more second time round. Work then took me to oil rigs in the North Sea and offshore Norway, which was perhaps the most frightening job of my life. I expected to be seriously injured because the conditions were appalling. Despite what people might say about health and safety regulations, they were just about non-existent! I was glad to call it a day on this rig in 1977.

I gave up working on the oil rigs and shortly after I married and started a new job at Rank Xerox in Crawley. Unfortunately, my marriage was shortlived and three years later I was single again. But Horsham was still the place I wanted to live as I had many friends there and it was where I felt at home. 

I was still playing football at a reasonable level under Ted Streeter, at Portfield, then Wick and later for Three Bridges. I then took over as player/coach for Broadbridge Heath and in an ironic twist of fate we beat Horsham Reserves in a cup game. A short time later, I returned to play for Horsham Reserves and assist the manager there and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Work was still full-on and travelling to Southampton, then Croydon, was becoming a pain. So I took a long hard look at myself and realised that I needed a change. So, I sold everything in Horsham and left to work for Xerox’s New Zealand operation!

I loved my time in New Zealand as it is a beautiful country with fjords and mountains in the south and beautiful bays full of uninhabited islands in the north. Also, New Zealand was just becoming established as a producer of good wine; a hobby of mine!

I was approached to become Director of Sales and Establishment Marketing at American Express, which was a fabulous job and I spent the best five years of my working life at Amex. It entailed a lot of travel and meant I visited exotic places like Rarotonga, Hamilton Island, Hawaii, Singapore, the Philippines, Vanuatu and Australia. I travelled back to the UK once a year for a month to catch up with my son. I had good Horsham friends who opened their homes and hearts to us and I will be forever grateful to Roger and Cath Weekes, Nick and Jane Nash and Keith and Pat Etheridge for their friendship and hospitality.

In 1992, I started work at ASB Bank NZ as National Manager and was given the responsibility of creating a more dynamic and service-oriented culture and one which could offer financial services products to customers. It was a huge task, but I managed to achieve my goals there. Five years later, after gaining my Investment Adviser qualification, I took on another challenge and helped start the Investment Advisory Service. By 2005, having built it from nothing, I was Chief Manager of Investments, managing funds worth almost $2 billion.

My normal sporting outlet for stress and frustration, football, was no longer available to me, as I had stopped playing when I was 45. I took up tennis and was honoured to be able to play a warm-up match with Steffi Graf when she visited New Zealand on tour. I visited Phuket in 2004, eight months before the tsunami hit. I needed the holiday as I had worked myself to a standstill. I would often work until the early hours of the morning as I was consumed with the challenge of being successful. This took its toll because in 2004, I was diagnosed with Barrett’s oesophagus, a condition that can lead to cancer. My doctor laid it on the line, telling me I’d worked too hard for far too long and it was time to quit.

I took extended leave and returned to Phuket to work through the illness and to see if I could live there. After the tsunami, the beachfront and roads were a mess, as were many of the buildings. However, the resilient Thai people were getting on with their lives and making the best of things. I remember walking along the beach road and seeing a car wedged in the window of a second-storey shop, such was the force of the sea on that dreadful day.

After two months living in and exploring Phuket, I decided to make the move there. I took early retirement in 2005, sold my house and car in New Zealand and became free of debt and stress. Wow, what a feeling!

For some time, I didn’t need to work. However, I was offered consultancy work with a property investment company and took the job on my terms as I didn’t want to be dragged back on to the corporate treadmill. I visited Phuket many times throughout 2006 and moved there the following year and I have been there ever since.

I haven’t been back to England since 2002 but I often think that I should return to see what has become of my home town. Maybe sometime soon, I will. 

If you would like to contact Phil, email phil.skingsley@gmail.com