David Webb

Former Player Remembers: David Webb

David Webb, who starred for Leicester City 40 years ago, also played over 250 games for Chelsea. When he spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson, he reminisced about his days at Chelsea, who City host in the Emirates FA Cup on Sunday (4pm BST kick-off).
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In addition, he talked about managing six clubs, including Chelsea, and about owning three of them. As a youngster, Stratford-born David played for West Ham United Schools, and worked for the Co-op. A year after sadly losing his father, and failing to get a contract at West Ham, he joined Leyton Orient in the old Second Division.  

He explained: “I signed when I was 17. I had a couple of good years there. Dave Sexton, (the future Chelsea, Queens Park Rangers and Manchester United manager) came to the Orient (in 1965). He soon left but I’d cemented a relationship with him.”

In March 1966, David was sold to Southampton: “I went to there with 12 games to go before the end of the season. We didn’t lose any and Southampton got promoted to the old First Division for the first time in their history. Ted Bates was the manager. A nice man. A lovely man.”

David spent two seasons at the Dell. Sexton, who was by then coach at Arsenal, tried to sign him: “I was disappointed when it didn’t happen. I was so homesick for London. Ted Bates knew that. When we won the Second Division, and went back to Southampton after the last match of the season, I didn’t go on the coach tour round the town. I went back London. All the next season, I wasn’t enjoying my football really. 

“Dave, who was now manager at Chelsea, signed me in February 1968. I was on £85-per-week at Southampton and I signed for Chelsea for £65-per-week. If you said to someone today that they had to take a 25 per cent pay cut to move from Southampton to Chelsea, they would say you were having a laugh!” 

Leicester City featured early in David’s Chelsea career: “My first game for Chelsea was at Manchester United, where we hadn’t won for years, and I made two of the goals funnily enough. I remember the next game, my first home game for Chelsea, was against Leicester who had Frank Large playing for them. He was a big old toughie. I whacked him early on. When I tackled him, the whole ground went quiet. He went right up in the air. I got a round of applause. I endeared myself to the Chelsea fans straightaway!” 

I’ve always been known as Del Boy. I would buy and sell anything: records, clothes. I also had a wig boutique when wigs were all the fashion in the '70s. I bought a hairdressing shop just to sell these wigs. I didn’t realise it was one of those fads which only lasted for so long!

David Webb

The Birch, who in David’s opinion had ‘more front than Marks and Spencers’, was one of David’s Chelsea team-mates. Birch’s nickname for David at Chelsea was Del Boy. 

“That’s because I used to buy and sell stuff all the time!” David laughed. “I’ve always been known as Del Boy. I would buy and sell anything: records, clothes. I also had a wig boutique when wigs were all the fashion in the '70s. I bought a hairdressing shop just to sell these wigs. I didn’t realise it was one of those fads which only lasted for so long!” 

David scored the winning goal in the 1970 FA Cup Final replay against Leeds United. He recalled that, on the evening before Wembley, he was at a function with Jimmy Hill. He said that, caught up in the occasion as a young 23-year-old, he wasn’t as focused as he should have been in the 2-2 draw at Wembley.

On a pitch ruined by a recent Horse of the Year Show, he was up against Eddie Gray, 'who was dancing over the bad pitch like a ballet dancer'.

“This experience was the best lesson I ever had because from then on in football, I only ever focussed on playing the game,” he added. “I became ultra-professional. I was careful what I ate before anybody used to do that and I started thinking about all the things to do properly which I would never have done before.

“Heading the winning goal in the cup final replay was marvellous. We were a footballing team but Leeds were intimidating and we had to stand up to that. There was a lot of physical stuff going on in that game!” 

David then revealed that Chelsea selling Keith Weller to Leicester City in 1971 was the beginning of the end for him at Chelsea.

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LCFC 1978/79
LCFC 1978/79

Webb and his Leicester team-mates in 1978.

“That Chelsea side was developing into an excellent team,” he continued. “But two years later it started to break up. People always say that the sale of [Peter] Osgood and [Alan] Hudson started this, but the biggest break-up there was the decision to sell Keith to Leicester. Jimmy Bloomfield (Leicester City’s new manager) came up to me after we had lost a European game and asked me if I had seen Keith because he’d been told he could sign him. 

“I knew Keith would be at a restaurant I used to go to, so I fixed it for Jimmy to meet Keith with his family. The next day, I went to the ground and asked Dave what was going on. He said he was under pressure to sell because Chelsea were building a new stand. I remember having a row with him about breaking up the team. That was the beginning of the break-up of that good Chelsea side. 

“The argument with Dave about Keith started to sour our relationship for a little bit. He wanted me to sign a new contract but I was so upset with what they had done to the team by selling Weller and then Ossie  and Huddy. I said I wasn’t staying. I could have gone to Arsenal at the end of that season but instead I joined QPR, which was the best footballing team I had played against that season.

“They had good young players like Don Givens, Gerry Francis, Phil Parkes, Stan Bowles and Dave Thomas. 

“Not long after I went there, the manager Gordon Jago left and Dave came in! I remember having a bit of a row when he first went there but we shook hands, we got on with it and we did quite well.”

Captained by the ex-Leicester City star and future manager Frank McLintock, QPR were runners-up in the league in 1975/76, finishing one point behind Liverpool.

This prompted David to remark: “We were a bit like Leicester City when the won the Premier League. Everything seemed to go right. We gelled just at the right time.”

After another season at Loftus Road, David was signed, in rather unusual circumstances, for Leicester by McLintock, who had recently succeeded Bloomfield as manager at Filbert Street. 

Following a 3-0 defeat of City at Loftus Road in September 1977, David went round to Frank’s house in London the next day: “I used to like a cigar in those days. I’d been out for Sunday lunch and I thought I’d pop into Frank’s on the way home and give him a cigar to cheer him up.

From then on in, he made me train with the kids. That was me finished at Leicester.

David Webb

“I went round and he asked me if I fancied coming to Leicester! He’d obviously said something to someone at QPR after the game, who had told him I could leave. No one had ever said anything to me! I was quite enjoying myself at QPR. I’d only gone round to Frank to cheer him up! That kind of severed my relationship with QPR. I signed for Frank.

“Frank had taken on a club that was in transition after Bloomfield. He went back to his old clubs and brought in people like George Armstrong, Eddie Kelly and me. It was the wrong thing to do. We were the wrong type of players at that time. People didn’t want to see their old heroes like Frank Worthington and Keith Weller pushed out and then see older players like me coming in.

“The club really should have brought in home grown players or fresh new faces. I understood that straightaway. Frank and I used to travel up to Leicester together and then I moved up here, renting Stevie Kember’s old house, but I realised it was the wrong place for me. They had given me quite a bit of money to sign on and I said: “Can I repay the money and go back!” 

Leicester City were relegated at the end of the season and McLintock was replaced by Jock Wallace

“I didn’t get on too well with Jock Wallace”, David continued. “Youngsters were coming through, like Neville Hamilton, Winston White and Derek Dawkins. If Frank had brought all those youngsters, through, he would have been okay. Jock saw that. However, I remember when we went away for the first pre-season, I didn’t like some things, so I knocked on his hotel room door.

“From then on in, he made me train with the kids. That was me finished at Leicester.”

David signed for Derby County and in 1980 moved to Fourth Division Bournemouth.

He said: “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 Bournemouth’s player-coach, so instead of accepting a new contract at Derby, I went to Bournemouth. 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. I then started getting young players in like Leicester City’s Derek Dawkins. Some were non-league players. I also tried to sign Neville Hamilton and Winston White, who I’d known at Leicester. We were promoted in 1982. 

“I thoroughly enjoyed it at Bournemouth. The beginning of the end for me there was when I disagreed with the chairman, who wanted to put a brand new roof on an old stand. I told him the stand had been there since 1928. When they took it from some racecourse to hold it up, they had carjacks under some of the wooden seats. Wouldn’t it be better to have a new stand?

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David Webb
David Webb

David managed Chelsea in 1993.

“I brought it up at a board meeting. I ended up getting a bit bold and said I’d buy the club. The chairman said in that case he would wanted the money by Thursday! I had to go to a mate’s funeral in London on the Wednesday. I met some people on the Thursday, who had some money about backing my bid, but when I told the chairman on the Friday that I’d not got the money he sacked me!

“That was a shame because I was trying to build a good team. I had bought a boy called Nigel Spackman (later of Chelsea and Liverpool) through from Andover. I also had a boy called Chris Sully. The chairman did sell the club and then the new owner started selling all these players. 

“My win ratio record was beaten by Eddie Howe in his first spell as Bournemouth’s manager. They should give him the keys to the town, because he has done brilliantly. He is an excellent manager: different class.”

After leaving Bournemouth, David managed Torquay United, where he again signed the ex-Leicester player Dawkins. He has managed Southend United on three occasions, guiding them to successive promotions, taking the club from the old Fourth Division in 1990, to a brief spell at the top of the Second Division in January 1992 two years later.

The following year, David took over at Chelsea, when they were struggling against relegation from the Premier League with 13 games left. He guided them to the safety of 11th position. He then led Brentford to two third tier play-offs, including the 1997 final. 

Behind the scenes, David has also owned Torquay, then Brentford, which he sold to Ron Noades, and then Yeovil Town.

After a lifetime in football, David has found some time to relax, spending a couple of years living in the Cayman Islands, before moving back to the New Forest area.

David concluded: “I was so chuffed when Leicester won the League. It’s the best thing that has ever happened to football.”

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