Webb scores highly for nostalgia

Every football fan has their favourite era and mine goes back to childhood to Chelsea winning the FA Cup and that great Brazil side of 1970.

Webb

Webb likes Rum Point best.
By Ron Shillingford

It was a wonderful few months for the beautiful game because those two sides embodied all the best aspects of football then which are still revered four decades on.

Personally, no teams nor eras have evoked so much pleasure since so when a chance came to interview a hero from that golden period it just had to be done.

David Webb, rock solid right-back with the Chelsea side is on holiday for the third time in two years in Cayman.

He greets me warmly as we meet in his hotel lobby on Seven Mile Beach and there follows two magical hours delving back to the ‘good ol’ days’ on the patio.

Webb, 63, is in Cayman with wife Michelle looking to buy a property so that they can spend half the year defrosting from the chills of England’s New Forest where they intend to live for a quarter of the year. The rest of the time will be spent in Portugal – again defrosting – only not as well as in Caribbean sunshine.

Cayman life suits the Webbs who have already assimilated seamlessly. They enjoyed the recent Scholars International match against Elite at the TE McField Stadium.

Scholars were winning 3-2 in a nail-biter and Rene Carter equalized in the 93rd minute. But from the kick-off, Jermaine Haughton blasted the ball from the half-way line against the Elite crossbar.

It bounced on the line and despite Elite protests referee Alfredo Whittaker gave the goal. Webb insists it shouldn’t have counted.

‘All the Scholars fans were shouting: ‘Goal! Goal!’ But I was sitting with the Elite supporters and they insisted it didn’t go fully over. It caused a lot of controversy and there was pandemonium at the end. It was one of those silly situations.’

Webb’s abiding memory from that game was when play was about to resume for the second half and all but one of a bunch of kids playing in a goal walked off. Whittaker showed the remaining boy the red card. Webb thought it was hilarious.

‘My wife and I were just laughing and it’s one of the lovely things we’ll always remember about Cayman.’

The football connection is still strong. Son Daniel, 26, plays for Salisbury, a non-league, semi-pro team in England. Not for Webb Junior Premiership riches though, he pockets around $500 a week.

David James Webb was born in Stratford, east London in 1946 and gravitated to West Ham United because it was the nearest big club.

Although a Chelsea legend, he admits to still deep down favouring the Hammers. He played for West Ham schoolboys and the district of Essex and even had England schoolboy trials.

From school he joined West Ham as an amateur and worked as a clerk at the Co-Op where the wage was $5 a week.

But tragedy struck – his father died and things were not working out at his beloved club. Webb was playing left-back at the time but they signed a younger kid in his place.

A move to Leyton Orient followed and they signed him as a pro a year later, on a whopping $15 a week.

Dave Sexton was the Orient manager but didn’t last long. Webb was transferred to Southampton for $50,000. He certainly gave the Saints a boost because in the 12 games he played, they went from eighth in the old Second Division to gain promotion to the top flight.

‘That was their first time in their history. They quite liked me,’ he smiles.

Wages were the princely sum of £85 ($125) a week when Chelsea came calling.

‘Dave Sexton wanted me when he was coaching at Arsenal but Southampton wouldn’t let me go. When Sexton became the Chelsea manager they finally let me go.

‘I wanted the move because it meant being back in London and they were a much bigger club, but had to take a drop in wages to £65 ($95).

‘If you said to a player today you’re going to be signed from Southampton to Chelsea and your wages were going to drop about 20 per cent, they’d laugh at you. That was one of the things you did in my day, for the career move and lots of other things. It wasn’t the money at all.’

Webb had six, mostly glorious years at Stamford Bridge. Things started going sour when they embarked on rebuilding the stadium and unwisely began selling players to finance it.

The stadium was in a poor state and the notorious Shed End lived up to its name and should only have been housing cattle. But becoming a selling club was a rash policy.

‘Everyone was so uncertain of the future. They sold Peter Osgood and Alan Hudson and broke the team up to pay for a new stand.

‘They offered me good money to stay but I wanted to stay in a good footballing side so left for Queen’s Park Rangers who turned out to be one of the best sides I ever played for.

‘Everybody was English, Irish or Scottish. There weren’t many foreign players at all. I would have loved to have gone abroad, like Italy, for the challenge but never had the luck to do that.’

Webb hooked up with Sexton again at Rangers in a team brimming with internationals that included Stan Bowles, Frank McLintock, Don Givens Dave Thomas and Gerry Francis, the England captain.

‘That Rangers team, like Chelsea, was a magnificent footballing side. I got fantastic enjoyment there.’

Rangers had their best season ever, coming second behind champions Liverpool in 1975/76, only one point behind and three ahead of Manchester United.

Webb first came to Cayman to set up a trust through his friend John Broadhurst. ‘I like it here because people are quicker to befriend you. In places like Barbados and Jamaica, they’re friendly but take things slower. There’s an atmosphere about Cayman which made me fall in love with it straight away.

‘As I started driving around the island I fell in love with every part of it. We came back again in May last year and decided to sell my house in England. But then the recession hit. Lots of people I know went under when they didn’t need to. They had lots of assets but the banks pulled their loans.

‘These were property developers in Poole. And the dastardly thing about is that the banks haven’t sold those assets on. The banks are in no way as much trouble as they purported to be.

‘When they thought they were in trouble, they took a lot of assets in but still haven’t sold them on.’

Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris is the legendary former Chelsea defender who ranks in anyone’s top ten hardest players in British football history.

In the 1970 FA Cup final Chelsea played the dreaded Leeds United. The Wembley game finished 2-2 with the Man of the Match award going to Leeds’ left-winger Eddie Gray who gave Webb a torrid time.

Normally Harris would have marked Gray out of the game as he was an accomplished man-to-man marker but because the Chelsea skipper was not fully fit he played in central defence and Webb was given the unenviable job of trying to snuff Gray out single-handedly.

‘I’d never been in a cup final and being the Chelsea boys we started enjoying the occasion a couple of weeks before. Most of us went more to enjoy the occasion rather than to play the match. We weren’t focused. Ronnie Harris being injured didn’t help.

‘The pitch was so heavy from having the Horse of the Year Show there a week before and it suited people just to go past them.

‘I tried every trick in the book against Gray and everyone was giving me different advice so in the end I was confused. Two of the goals came from the fact that the pitch was dead. It hit the ground and didn’t bounce.

‘It was only after that I was numb. I started a friendship that day with Michael Crawford, the actor. He came up to me at the reception that evening to shake my hand for showing so much guts. ‘You just kept going back for more,’ he said. ‘I’ve never seen a bloke get knocked down so much and keep getting back again.’

‘Ultimately, I think it worked to our advantage because I’ve never seen someone more intent on beating me and not putting some telling crosses in. He just wanted to beat me again and again. I think more of the telling stuff came from the fella on the other side.

‘In an interview the next week, I said: ‘Don’t worry, that won’t happen in the replay, I’ve got me ‘bovver boots’ on.

‘In the replay at Old Trafford, Ron kicked Eddie Gray in the ankle in the first two minutes and two years later I think they were still taking the studs out!

‘We showed more old-fashioned guts in those two games than they did. We might have been outplayed in lots of parts of the game but they could never out-fight us.

‘We always did well at Old Trafford whereas Leeds always kicked Manchester United to pieces. In the replays in the semi-finals they kicked George Best to pieces. It was diabolical. It should have been a United-Chelsea final. So in the replay everyone was for Chelsea. Everyone hated Leeds. We had the most support too.

‘Harris had the image of a hatchet man but I must say he didn’t get the credit he deserved. He had his hard image and played up to it.

‘That was the way those guys were. Every team had one; Peter Storey (Arsenal), Nobby Stiles (Manchester United), Billy Bremner and Norman Hunter (Leeds).’

And all too briefly the nostalgic episode was fleetingly over.

  • Webb said plenty more – like what he really thinks of Harry Redknapp – which will find their way onto these pages soon.
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