BY Vince Cooper
‘PETER Osgood and Charlie Cooke have more football in their little fingers than I have in my whole body!’ So said David Webb during his time at Chelsea. Whilst that might well have been true there can be little doubt that few got as much out of their ability – or put as much into their game – as the East Londoner who proved to be a huge favourite among both teammates and fans at the club.
Whilst ostensibly a central defender, Webb really was the epitome of a ‘play anywhere’ type, even reverting to the goalkeeper’s role (and doing very well at it) when the need arose. And he had the spirit to come back from getting ‘roasted’ in an F. A. Cup final to play in a different position in the replay – and score the winner.
David James Webb was born in Stratford, East London a stone’s throw from where the London (formerly Olympic) Stadium stands – “It used to be a old tip where my dad dropped all the rubbish for his lorry business” he recalls – on 9th November 1946.
When he was 12-years-old and whilst attending Lister Technical school in Plaistow he decided he wanted to be a footballer giving up on his initial ambition of being a speedway rider and, perhaps unsurprisingly given his location, his first club was West Ham United. But he was released by the Hammers whilst still a schoolboy and his first job after finishing his education, and shortly after his father had sadly passed away, was with the Co-Op.
Webb modelled his game on Scottish star Dave Mackay who he later called; “A god.
“He wants to win, plays his heart out every game, gives everything he’s got”, he said. Much the same could be said of Webb who, although he perhaps lacked some of the skills of his hero, certainly matched him for heart.
Webb, back row, far left, at Leyton Orient
At 17 he got a second chance at the pro game and signed for Leyton Orient, then in the 2nd Division. Eighteen months after joining, and as he was beginning to establish himself at the club they appointed a new manager in Dave Sexton who left his job as assistant to Tommy Docherty at Chelsea to take the reins at the Brisbane Road club.
Off to the south coast
In 1966 both men left East London. Sexton was recruited by Bertie Mee to work as first-team coach at Arsenal whilst Webb, after 62 games and three goals, moved to the South coast joining Southampton in a swap deal with George O’Brien going in the opposite direction.
Webb immediately endeared himself to Saints fans by getting a crucial equaliser against fellow promotion contenders Wolves. He was a key part of the run that saw the team go unbeaten for their last 12 matches to win a place in the top flight for the first time in their history, and also of the side that fought a successful battle against relegation in the 1966-67 campaign.
But he never really settled at The Dell. “I was homesick”, he later confessed. “When we won promotion and went back on the coach tour around town, I didn’t go. I went back to London”. He and wife Jackie were both East Enders and wanted to return closer to home.
A move to Highbury and a reunion with Sexton fell through, disappointing Webb who said: “All next season I wasn’t enjoying my football”.
Then Sexton moved to Stamford Bridge, taking over from Docherty in October 1967 and soon after he moved again for Webb. This time, in February 1968, the deal happened with Chelsea swapping Joe Kirkup and money in a deal which valued him at £60,000, even though the player had to take a hefty pay cut (from £85 per week to £65) to make it work and get back home, moving to Chigwell.
It was a dream start at his new club as the 21-year-old made his debut against Manchester United at Old Trafford, a place where Chelsea had a terrible recent history. The visitors recorded an excellent 3-1 win over the champions and European Cup winners-to-be, and Webb had a hand in two of the goals.
United, unbeaten at home for 23 months, fell behind when a strong Webb tackle on Francis Burns sent Charlie Cooke away to cross for Bobby Tambling to score. The home team equalised but Chelsea retook the lead through Peter Osgood before Webb set up Tommy Baldwin to clinch the win.
An injured Webb missed Chelsea’s next match, at Sheffield Wednesday but then made his home debut in a 4-1 victory over Leicester City, the Blues’ biggest win of the season. He endeared himself to home fans with an early crunching tackle on Leicester centre-forward Frank Large and his all-action style of play quickly won the hearts of the Stamford Bridge faithful.
The defender, often performing in an unaccustomed left-back role due to an injury to Eddie McCreadie, ended the season with 13 starts to his name as the Blues finished a creditable 6th, qualifying for the following season’s Inter-Cities Fairs Cup after 5th-placed Everton were disallowed from taking their place in the competition because two clubs from the same city weren’t allowed to compete and Liverpool had already qualified in third.
For the 1968-69 season Webb reverted to his more-favoured central defensive role. often alongside John Dempsey after the Irishman joined from Fulham in January 1969. He was ever-present, playing in a total of 54 games in four competitions and winning the club’s Player of the Year award.
Webby in his hairdressers
He also opened his scoring account – in style. On Boxing Day 1968 Chelsea travelled to East Anglia to play struggling Ipswich Town (who were to figure in a few odd ways during David’s time at Stamford Bridge) at Portman Road. In the 25th minute Webb, making his 45th appearance for the club, found himself unmarked on the six-yard line and headed a cross past ‘keeper David Best.
Just after the interval he found himself in a similar position and again nodded home and then, with just under 20 minutes left he tried a speculative shot from the edge of the area which squeezed past Best to complete an unlikely hat-trick.
Webb finished the season with eight goals to his name as his team finished 5th in the league (ironically missing out on a Fairs Cup place because Arsenal were 4th), reached the FA Cup quarter-final and were knocked out of the Fairs Cup at the 2nd-round stage by little-known DWS Amsterdam on a coin toss.
Chelsea’s 1969-70 season started with a mostly unchanged squad although the emergence of the mercurial Alan Hudson gave Sexton another weapon and Paddy Mulligan was added in October for more defensive cover.
Taking it easy against Leeds
The Blues got off to a poor start. A 4-1 defeat at Anfield was the start of a run that saw just two wins in the first eleven matches including a run of six successive draws (Webb missed the first four games of the campaign through injury). A 2-0 defeat at Leeds in mid-September saw them languishing in 14th place whilst after the first two rounds of the League Cup were safely negotiated they then suffered a surprise defeat at Carlisle ending interest in that competition.
With Lord Attenborough
But suddenly things turned around and when Crystal Palace were hammered 5-1 at Selhurst Park on 27th December, Sexton’s side had risen to 3rd in the table behind just Everton and Leeds.
Shadowing Allan Clarke
Although they couldn’t quite mount a title challenge (eventually finishing a creditable 3rd, eleven points behind champions Everton), the FA Cup started a week after the Palace game and Chelsea, with the versatile Webb now firmly ensconced in right-back role, recorded a comfortable 3-0 win over Birmingham City.
Jumping for joy with Peter Osgood at Loftus Road
Burnley (after a replay), Crystal Palace and QPR were all ousted to set up a semi-final clash with Watford at White Hart Lane where Webb’s 3rd-minute goal set the Blues on their way to an emphatic 5-1 win, and to Wembley,
Their opponents were Leeds United and it would be the fifth meeting of the season between the pair, Chelsea having ousted their Yorkshire rivals in the League Cup 2nd Round after a replay and its fair to say that there was a fair amount of bad blood between the two, a feud that had been simmering for a number of seasons.
A helping hand from Gary Sprake at Wembley
With the normally pristine Wembley pitch churned up and covered in sand Webb had a nightmare. He seemed to freeze on the big stage and he was given a roasting by Man of the Match Eddie Gray (who, Dave would later say: “Was dancing over the bad pitch like a ballet dancer”). But Chelsea managed to come from behind twice and grab a 2-2 draw setting up meeting number six.
With 18 days and three matches before the replay at Old Trefford Sexton had plenty of time to ponder and try out how to combat Gray’s menace. He decided to switch David to left-half giving Ron Harris the task of handling the Scottish winger. Handle him (and sometimes mishandle him) Chopper did as Chelsea after twice coming from behind at Wembley fought back again with Peter Osgood cancelling out an early Leeds lead sending a brutal and often illegal encounter into extra time.
A different view of the winner at Old Trafford
‘Cometh the hour Cometh the man’ as they say and deep into the extra period Webb was on hand to put the finishing touch to an Ian Hutchinson long-throw and take the trophy back to Stamford Bridge for the first time,
With the big prize
It comes as no surprise that Webb describes the Old Trafford moment as; “the best of my career” and he goes on to describe the return to London in equally glowing terms. “The scene at Euston when we got off the train then coming down the Kings Road…I’ll never forget the way the fans greeted us”.
Chelsea’s victory parade
He finished the season having made 46 starts with seven goals to his name highlighted by that crucial one on 29th April.
Whilst it would be hard to compete with scoring the winner in the FA Cup final, Dave and Chelsea followed it with another trophy-winning season in 1970-71.
In action in Athens
An injury again caused a slow start to the new term but he eventually made a total of 52 starts (scoring six times) including playing every match in a European Cup campaign that ended with a final win (after another replay) over Real Madrid in Athens.
The 1970-71 squad
Dave also started to show his entrepreneurial skills, setting up a kit cleaning company with teammate John Dempsey. Later ventures included a wig boutique and a hairdressers (in fact he bought the hairdressers to sell the wigs). He was ‘Del Boy’ long before David Jason took the role in Only Fools And Horses, buying and selling records, clothes and anything he felt he could make a profit on.
Want a wig?
The 1971-72 season saw another cup final appearance, this time against Stoke City. But defeat there and in the FA Cup 5th Round to Orient the week before, along with an early exit in their defence of the Cup Winners Cup saw any hope of further trophies end.
Webb missed just one match all season and gave the ultimate proof of his versatility.
In December goalkeeper Peter Bonetti injured his ankle after half-an-hour of the match at Coventry City and it was Webb who took over between sticks, making some fine saves and being beaten just once in a 1-1 draw.
Webb the goalkeeper
Reserve goalie John Phillips took over for the League Cup semi-final win over Spurs five days later but he too was injured and with third-choice Steve Sherwood snowbound in Yorkshire, Webb was picked to start the home league match against Ipswich Town. Impressively, he kept a clean sheet in a 2-0 win. When Chelsea met Ipswich in the return fixture three months later Dave, now being deployed up front after injuries to a number of strikers, scored both goals in a 2-1 win.
At the end of the campaign Webb’s heroics, versatility and whole-hearted playing approach were rewarded when he was voted Player of the Year for a second time.
A cool group of players
Whilst that ‘71-‘72 season had been decent enough on paper (the Blues finished a creditable 7th in the league along with their League Cup final appearance), the cracks, at least for David, had started to appear.
Running out at White Hart Lane with Alan Hudson
Problems first started to surface for Webb at the start of the ‘71-‘72 season. Two games into the campaign the club surprisingly sold Keith Weller, a player Dave rated highly, to Leicester City. Dave went in to see manager Sexton about the sale and was told that he had been told he needed to sell due to the need to raise money for the new East Stand. It was, the player later said: “The beginning of the end”.
The 1972-73 saw the club drop down to a mid-table position and the increased financial burden of the new stand allied to Sexton falling out, and eventually selling, star men Peter Osgood and Alan Hudson saw a gradual decline and a year later they were fighting an ultimately successful relegation battle.
For Webb, it was time to move on. Sexton wanted him to sign a new contract but, his relationship with his long-time mentor having soured, he refused. Arsenal bid for his services but, tempted by the prospect of playing with the likes of Gerry Francis, Stan Bowles, Don Givens and Dave Thomas, plus the recommendation of good friend Terry Venables he decided to stay in West London, joining QPR for £120,000 in July 1974.
Within a few weeks of moving to Loftus Road manager Gordon Jago left the club and was replaced by…Sexton!
In QPR colours
The excellent relationship that had existed between the pair before their argument over Weller seemed to have resumed and Webb had settled in well at Loftus Road. Then, midway through his first season with his new club, he surprised everyone by announcing that he was hanging up his boots.
The all-action defender was quick to announce that his decision wasn’t football or Sexton-related. He had initially asked for a transfer but then decided that the only way he could resolve the business issues causing his problems was to step away from the game. He said: “My reasons remain very personal.
“I needed to get away to give myself time to think”.
Terry Venables, a good friend of Dave’s and vice-chairman of the PFA urged the player to reconsider his decision.
“I know that whatever is at the root of this, is very personal”, said Venables, “it is something he must work out for himself.
“But I also know him as a great fellow with a lot to offer. That’s why I hope he goes back”.
McLintock, Bowles, Givens and Webb
Within a week he was back, thanking actor Michael Crawford for helping convince him to return. “I had a long talk with Michael who is one of my closest friends”, Webb revealed.
“He said: ‘You should only do things in life that you are good at. You’re good at playing football. Give it up and you’ll only be half the man you are’
“There have been others, particularly Terry Venables – another close friend – whose advice I have listened to and appreciated”.
Manager Sexton who met Webb along with Chairman Jim Gregory, welcomed him back and said: “He knows now that the club are willing to give him as much advice as they can about his business interests”.
Quickly restored to the side, Webb helped them to a mid-table finish as Sexton continued to mould a team that played attractive, attacking football.
QPR began the 1975-76 campaign in fine style, overcoming Liverpool 2-0 in their opener and thrashing champions Derby County 5-1 at The Baseball Ground in their third match. When a Webb goal gave them a 1-0 win over Manchester United on 13 September they moved within a point of the top spot and a single-goal win against Newcastle United three weeks later took them to the heady heights of top of the table.
A run of four defeats in six matches over the Christmas and New Year period seemed to put an end to Sexton’s men’s charge but they stormed back with a remarkable run of 11 defeats and one draw in a 12-match period. Webb was the hero twice grabbing the only goal in wins over Stoke City and Manchester City in successive matches.
Scoring the winner against Manchester City
The winner at Stoke came when England goalkeeper Peter Shilton mishandled a half-hit shot and saw it drop over the line. A week later he was on hand to head Don Mason’s free kick past Joe Corrigan and when Dave produced a Man of the Match performance in a 4-2 win over Middlesbrough it saw QPR a point clear of Liverpool with just three games remaining and five head of the next challengers.
But then, an Easter Saturday disaster where a 3-2 loss to Norwich City at Carrow Road coupled with Liverpool’s come-from-behind 5-2 win over Stoke City saw the top two change places.
An Easter Monday win over Arsenal coupled with a 2-0 last-day success against Leeds United weren’t enough to repair the damage for The R’s as Liverpool also won their last two to take the title by a single point.
It was a valiant effort with Webb playing a leading role, playing in 38 games and scoring five times but the following campaign saw Sexton’s side, hampered by a long-term back injury to Gerry Francis, dropped back into mid-table.
The summer of 1977 saw Webb on the move again. QPR, having seen manager Sexton leave for Manchester United, sold him in September to Leicester City, where former R’s teammate had taken over as manager, for £50,000.
In action for Leicester, tackling Kevin Reeves of Norwich City
The move came after QPR had beaten Leicester 3-0 in a league match and after the match Dave visited Frank at home in an attempt to cheer him up. He was asked if he’d fancy a move to Leicester and found out that The Foxes had already made enquiries and were told he was for sale, something he was unaware of.
But it didn’t work out, for Webb or City. McLintock brought in a number of men he had played with and they didn’t gel with the City old guard, or the fans.
Webb quickly realised he had made a mistake. He had been given a hefty signing-on fee by the club and went to see the board, asking if he could pay the money back and leave. This was rejected and things only got worse as Leicester finished bottom of the 1st Division and McLintock was fired.
New boss Jock Wallace didn’t see eye-to-eye with Webb and after one altercation sent him to train with the youth team. “That was me finished at Leicester” says Dave.
The next move was to Derby County in December 1978 where he spent eighteen months before, despite being offered a new contract at the Baseball Ground he moved to the south coast and signed for Bournemouth in May 1980.
Now well into the veteran stage of his playing career at 33, Dave recalls: “Bournemouth’s manager was Alec Stock who had been Director of Football when I was at QPR. He phoned me up and asked me if I would be interested in becoming player-coach.
“The first year I was player-coach but then Alec moved upstairs and I became the manager.
“I gave Harry Redknapp his first job. He was out of work at the time, and I started getting young players in”.
One of those youngsters was Nigel Spackman who he signed from Andover and who would go on to have a fine career, first at Chelsea then at Liverpool.
Webb guided the club to promotion from the 4th Division but then, after a number of disagreements with the chairman he made a bid to buy the club. When his financial backers dropped out he was sacked.
After two years away from the game he got a call from Torquay United who he managed for a season (also playing a couple of games) and also invested in the club and spent some time as managing director (also driving the team coach!) before moving back closer to his roots and taking over at Southend United in June 1986.
He quickly guided the club to the upper reaches of the 4th Division but resigned in March 1987 just a few weeks before they were promoted.
Reappointed in November 1988 he failed to save The Shrimpers from dropping back down into the fourth tier but then led them to back-to-back promotions and saw his side on top of the 2nd Division for a short time before they dropped back down to finish in a respectable 12th.
At the end of the 1991-92 season Webb resigned and he had another spell away from the game before a surprise call back to the big time.
In mid-February 1993 Chelsea were mired in a run of 12 games without a win, had been eliminated from both cups and were in danger of dropping into a relegation battle. Chairman Ken Bates reacted by sacking manager Ian Porterfield.
Back at the Bridge
Bates brought Webb in as Porterfield’s replacement, giving him the manager’s job on an interim-basis until the end of the season. The chairman said: “Webb takes over initially on a three-month contract until the end of the season. Then we shall see”. The new boss simply said: “For David Webb this is the best job in the world”.
The Blues lost Webb’s first game in charge, to title-chasing Blackburn Rovers but victory over Arsenal a week later was the start of a seven-match unbeaten run and they finished the season in 11th place.
However, Bates decided not to give the job to Webb, appointing Glenn Hoddle instead and Dave’s venture into top-flight management was over.
Dave didn’t dwell on not being given the job at Stamford Bridge. Within days he had taken the manager’s job at Brentford, taking over from Phil Holder after the club had been relegated into the third tier of English football.
He twice took the Bees to playoffs and the club were particularly unlucky in the 1994-95 campaign when the team finished runners-up to Birmingham City but only the champions were automatically promoted.
He then bought the club in partnership with Tony Swaisland and moved into a managing directors role with former Cardiff City boss Eddie May taking over as manager. Dave became unpopular after selling many of the club’s best players leading to demonstrations by fans and sold his stake to Ron Noades in June 1998.
The next stop for Dave was the manager’s job at Southern League Yeovil Town but he then returned to Southend United for a season, left and went back again as caretaker-manager. Showing his wheeler-dealer ways he then bought Yeovil in 2005, sold them a year later and returned to Roots Hall yet again this time as assistant in 2010.
Now in his late 70s, Dave spent some time living in the Cayman Islands and continued his widespread business interests including a car dealership, property deals and a coal mine in Somerset, but has since returned to the U. K. His son Danny has outstripped dad in terms of travel having been with a whopping 22 clubs as well as managing Leyton Orient and, for a short time, Chesterfield.
It is clear that David Webb had one of the richer and more eventful football lives. He earned a place in immortality at Stamford Bridge but, wherever he played, proved one of the most colourful and whole-hearted footballers of his era.