Complex Webb of mystery and mirth

One of the most colourful players from England’s Seventies football era has to be David Webb, the much travelled defender who made his name in west London for Chelsea and Queen’s Park Rangers before embarking on a successful managerial career.

Webb scored Chelsea’s winner in the 1970 FA Cup replay against the formidable Leeds United, once scored a hat-trick against Ipswich Town and even played a whole match in goal against them.

Now a wealthy businessman and property developer, Webb is winding up his last few days in Cayman on holiday with wife Michelle before returning to wintry England.

They should be back soon because Cayman’s glorious climate, fine beaches and laid-back atmosphere is just the thing the Webbs are seeking for at least half the year which is why they want to buy a property here.

Sitting on his hotel’s patio in Seven Mile Beach, enjoying the morning sun, Webb reflects on an eventful career with many wonderful memories and few regrets.

A versatile player who was best at right-back but could play literally anywhere on the field, he almost got England international recognition but for bad timing.

‘I was supposed to go on an England summer tour to New Zealand and Australia but had put off a groin operation all season and told the England management I couldn’t go because of the operation,’ he says.

‘It was just at the end of the Alf Ramsey era. They phoned up and invited me but I declined and told them why but they thought I just wanted to stay to have a jolly up and I think Ramsey thought I’d snubbed him and they never asked me again.

‘It was a shame because I would have loved to have done it. They thought I could have put off the operation for another year but I didn’t want to. It turned out that the operation went a little sour and I missed the beginning of the season anyway.

‘In the meantime, the management changed and Don Revie came in as England boss but he didn’t like me anyway and that was that. At QPR I think I was the only player who wasn’t an international.’

Parking around the Rangers ground in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, was atrocious because it was smack in the middle of a built-up residential area.

Preferring to get to the ground relatively late because he suffered from nerves otherwise, Webb would park on an ad hoc basis and a couple of times got towed away.

A move to Leicester City followed for the now disillusioned Webb who decided to join Frank McLintock, the ex-Rangers defender who was by now the manager at Filbert Street.

‘I shouldn’t have really gone to Leicester. It was one of the few times I honestly went just for the money. I got a big lump for signing on which I bought a house with.

‘Frank didn’t last long, bless him. He took me up there along with the Arsenal pair Eddie Kelly and George Armstrong. Frank said I didn’t need to move up there so I used to travel up from Chigwell in Essex the 100 miles to Leicester for training, which was not really on.

‘Frank was left with breaking up a good team that Jimmy Armfield had put together at Leicester and the directors got a bit impatient and Frank got the hump and walked out.

‘Jock Wallace came in from Glasgow Rangers. He was alright, not my type of bloke, so I left for Derby County under Tommy Docherty.

‘He was brilliant. He said: ‘I only want you for three weeks!’ They had lost a load of games on the spin and he wanted to sign Stevie Wicks from Chelsea but couldn’t get him so signed me instead to try to stop the rot and keep them up.

‘I went there on the Friday with a busted ankle and they wanted to play me the next day. Roy McFarland (the England centre-back) was there too and he was injured. I said to him: ‘Come on, you’re alright,’ and talked him into playing. So we played and they got their first win for ages.

‘And then we went and beat Nottingham Forest, which was the big thing for them against Brian Clough’s side so the game had even more poignancy and overnight you suddenly became a hero.

‘I’ve got to say they were some of the best supporters I’ve ever known in my life.

‘It was a good time to play football, quite incredible. There was a lot of things going on when you look at the players at the time.

‘Every game was different whereas today unless you change the colour of the shirts you can’t really tell which team is which because everyone plays the same. There’s no variation.

‘Manchester United is one of the few teams that still play off the cuff. They’re still one of the most exciting teams because of that.

‘In those days each team had a special player, their Cristiano Ronaldo of the day, like George Best, Charlie Cooke, Keith Weller, Eddie Gray, Stan Bowles, Rodney Marsh….

‘They were like mavericks and every team had one. They would draw in the crowds. Some people would come to Chelsea just to see Charlie Cooke or Peter Osgood and if they saw 10 minutes of them that would make their week. Possibly like people do with Ronaldo.

‘He might be lazy or do nothing throughout the game and then suddenly do something magical and they’d say: ‘That’s made my week, that has.’ That’s what football’s about.

‘Look at John Barnes. He’s come through an era where there was a certain quality about players too.

‘Today, it’s more technical. Look at Chelsea. When they do well it’s because they have a consistent team, the same blokes playing all the time.

‘They don’t change the team unless they have to. Manchester United are going through that problem because they haven’t settled on their best team.

‘Today you’ve got squads of over 20 players and they rotate them so it’s become a bit more like American football. I think it takes a bit of flavour away.

‘We’ve come into a new era which is geared for television. In the old days teams got tired towards the end, now no one’s expected to get tired.’

Webb prefers the old punt upfield rather than the precise build ups we get now. In fact, he liked the style in the recent Scholars-Elite game at the TE McField Stadium in George Town when ‘they mash it’ upfield in desperation to score.

After a varied career playing with eight clubs, management was inevitable. He joined Bournemouth as a player-coach with Alec Stock as boss.

They got promotion in Webb’s first year but when he became manager the following season things didn’t go so well.

At one point, out of frustration at how the club was being run, Webb put together a consortium to buy Bournemouth so that he would have overall control, but it didn’t quite happen.

In exasperation, he walked out on the Thursday and Harry Redknapp, the assistant manager, got the manager’s post the following Monday. Webb felt Rednapp – now the Spurs boss – had been angling for the job behind his back.

Webb felt bad for Rednapp when he had a bad car accident soon after but still resented the way he schemed.

‘I gave Harry his first job. A good friend of mine, Stuart Morgan was manager at Weymouth and I wanted him to join me but he was happy there but recommended Harry to me.

‘I took Harry on as first team coach and to be fair he was good at it. Unfortunately, Harry being Harry, he’s not the best of blokes to have when you’re in a crisis.

‘I fell out with him because I got the sack and Harry was supposed to go too but he was already trying my shoes on before I left.

‘He’s done that one or two times but that’s Harry. He is a good coach, but I wouldn’t have him in the trenches with me if I was in a fight. I’m not only disappointed with the way he treated me, but he did the same with my old mate Billy Bonds when he was manager at West Ham.

‘Harry wrote a book a few years ago and bad mouthed me. I wasn’t happy with that because people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

‘To be fair, Tottenham are having a good run and Portsmouth had their best run ever under Harry. But when it suits him he will jump when it’s time to go.’

Torquay United was Webb’s next stop where he ended up buying the club with a consortium.

‘It was a good learning curve for me, business-wise and everything else. I’d have to always make sure the money was there for the wages and dealing with the tax man. It was very stressful but also very enlightening.

‘I ended up selling it to two guys involved with the club, nice people, and I went back to just being the manager.’

Torquay certainly struggled, finishing bottom of the old Fourth Division a couple of times and thankful that they were not automatically relegated into non-league football which happens now.

By shrewd transfer market choices Webb was able to improve Torquay’s finances.

He then returned to another local club from his childhood, Southend United and almost got them promoted but fell out with the chairman, left then went back 18 months later only to be relegated on goal difference.

With a new vigour, Webb got them promoted two seasons running, the first time in their history.

Now an established manager in the lower leagues, there was talk of being assistant to Terry Venables at Spurs. It didn’t happen but Chelsea’s prickly chairman Ken Bates offered Webb a short-term chance to manage the Blues who were fighting relegation.

For the princely wage of £6,000 ($9,000) for three months Webb not only steered Chelsea clear of relegation in 1993 but helped them to a respectable 13th place finish.

On that form, surely the manager’s job should have been a certainty but under Bates that was never on.

‘Bates paid me exactly the same as I was getting at Southend. I would have liked the job but knew I would never have got on with him.

‘There were a couple of things that happened half way through my stint which made me realise I wasn’t going to get it, like selling Graeme Le Saux, which wasn’t anything to do with me. I wasn’t involved in deals.

‘Bates told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t getting the permanent job because they had already lined Glenn Hoddle up.’

Having lost the Chelsea job that morning, Webb only had to wait till the afternoon for re-employment after getting a call from Martin Lange, the Brentford chairman.

He lasted four mainly successful years there but left when local supporters got frustrated with the slow progress.

Managing ambitious non-leaguers Yeovil Town was next and that lasted until Southend headhunted him back for four times the money.

But the return wasn’t fun this time. Southend was another club in a lot of financial mess and Webb was tired of trying to turn a struggling clubs around.

By now he was heavily into the property business. ‘I’d invested some money in shares which had gone boss-eyed. I phoned a friend and said: ‘I’ve just done 100 grand on my shares.’ And he said he’d lost 13 million!

That friend was Jack Petchey, the billionaire property and timeshare tycoon.

He helped Webb recoup some of his losses by buying 425 struggling gas stations and selling him 25 of them cheaply. Webb systematically built up each station and sold them at a reasonable profit. There was no time for football then.

He lived in Hull for a while where most of the petrol stations were and invested the profits into residential real estate.

He sold his fabulous house in Poole, near Bournemouth last year and now lives in a listed 16th century cottage in the New Forest.

This is the Webbs’ third time in Cayman since first coming two years ago. Their favourite location is Rum Point. David’s knowledge of the island is already impressive. The fact that he came across an old friend made it more appealing.

‘When I started going around the island I discovered Morritt’s Tortuga. And then I drove past a restaurant called David’s and thought of David Morritt who I knew in England not thinking it could be the same one.

‘I went into the reception and there was a big picture of him with his dad. He happened to be there. So I dropped my wife at Rum Point and went back for a long chat with him.’

Webb thought Morritt had settled in Florida but he actually came here and set up his flourishing timeshare business in East End.

Morritt used to own non-league Wealdstone Football Club and tried to take them full-time professional in the Eighties.

‘It was strange meeting him out of the blue like that. Dave was ahead of his time because nearly all the non-league clubs in the Conference league are now full-time pros.’