Our round 22 match this year isn’t just remarkable for being a rare, non-televised game against the old enemy Wigan Warriors. It is also part of the Wellbeing Round of matches which marks the start of the Tackle the Tough Stuff campaign – Super League’s biggest ever mental and physical health campaign – more details of which can be found at the following website https://www.superleague.co.uk/wellbeing
With this in mind we got in touch with Saints legend Phil Veivers, who made 381 appearance in 12 years for the club, scoring 98 tries. Primarily donning the number 1 jersey in his time at Knowsley Road, Phil played in almost every position in the red vee – his reliability and talent enshrining him into Saints legend.
These days, Phil is a presenter with State of Mind Sport. He told us about how his move to Saints came about, beating Wigan and gave us an insight into his work with State of Mind as well as being frank about his own battle with his mental health.
Can you give us a bit of background about how your move to Saints came about? Was it made easier because you moved over with Mal Meninga?
My move to Saints came after Ray French was sent over to Australia to sign Mal Meninga and Gary Belcher. However, after he spoke to Belcher, he found that he only wanted to come for half a season. Ray got back to John Clegg and told him that there was another kid on the wing that goes alright. So he asked if I’d be interested and after a couple of conversations I agreed to come over for the year.
To be fair I already knew Mal. We’d played at the same club for the last 2 years and yeah, it did make the journey easier – especially after about a dozen beers on the plane.
As for the rugby I had no pressure – I just enjoyed playing footy.
Who was the best player you played alongside and why?
Mal was the most naturally gifted player I’d had the chance to play with but, over the years at Saints, I also had the chance to play with Shane Cooper who was a genius. Whether he waddled through a gap or created space for everyone else he was a schemer. English-wise Kevin Ward was great but for local talent Bernard Dwyer was a workhorse and Tommy Martyn could open up any defence. To be fair I could have picked any one from over 15 different players!
Who was the main ‘character’ from your time at Saints?
Paul Loughlin used to make me laugh with his jokes but only because he used to laugh loudest at them and laugh at his own. There can only be one though, and that’s Neil Holding. He was always playing practical jokes. Me and Neil worked together on the ground with Lockers and Shane Cooper and I remember once he’d put a dead rat in the coffee jar. Unfortunately for Lockers it was his turn when it came to brew time.
Well Lockers feared rats, so we followed him in and you can imagine when he took the top off the coffee jar and let out the highest pitched scream I’ve heard from a bloke. He threw the jar in the air which smashed everywhere and gave it toes to the other side of the ground. Funny as…
What was the highlight of your time with Saints and why?
Beating Wigan is always good and when we beat them after coming back from 22-6 down at halftime always sits good with me. Personally scoring 2 tries in that victory also made it so special.
I remember the first try more so because it was rewarded with an 8 point try after Westy (Graham West) caught me late. I was lying there as if I’d been shot thinking ‘best Oscar ever to me’ with (Andy) Platt over me asking if I was alright and me just looking up winking at him.
(The game in question was on the 27th December 1987 at Central Park. Other try scorers that day were wingers Kevin McCormack and Les Quirk, as well as utility back Dave Tanner. Paul Loughlin kicked 6 goals)
You’re now involved with State of Mind – can you tell us a little bit about your role there and what you do?
Yeah I do quite a bit with State of Mind. We go round delivering mental health workshops to all sorts of organisations such as schools, colleges, universities, police, fire brigade, ambulance service, rugby clubs and football clubs – as well as more and more in construction companies where men, in particular, think that it’s weak to admit they have issues – which I think is rubbish. It makes more sense to open up and get things off your chest because a problem shared is a problem halved. So I’m a presenter and ambassador to the charity.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with their mental health/to someone who is worried about a family member or friend’s mental health?
If someone was struggling then my advice would be to talk about things. Get it off your chest. The feeling when you do this is unbelievable. I know because I struggled and if I didn’t talk about it then I wouldn’t be here talking to you today so that’s how important I see that.
Also if you had a friend or family member who you think is struggling then ask them are they okay but don’t take the stock answer of yeah I’m alright. Elaborate on why you’re asking, tell them that you’ve noticed a difference in them and explain what this is. You never know that might trigger something inside them and they might just think ‘balls to this I’m getting everything off my chest’ and you never know that one question you might ask may save their life.
Finally, what else are you up to now and what does the future hold for you?
At the minute I do work for State of Mind, I also work in the fitness industry delivering personal training courses in the health sector 3 days a week. I am on the Match Review Panel and do a bit of coaching down at Ashton Bears. At the minute it looks like I’m here for good having become a British citizen but then again you never say never. Just like if another coaching gig came up then, hey, who knows.
We’d like to extend our thanks to Phil for his time, and remind you that if you are struggling with your mental health, or know someone who is, then there is no need to suffer in silence. We have our own Men’s Room page on the Redvee forum, where we encourage you to chat without judgement with likeminded fans – and there are plenty of organisations out there willing to listen such as Rugby League Cares, Movember with Van man and State of Mind – the websites of which are available through the link at the top of the page.