Webb: The truth behind my Pompey exit

Neil Webb left Pompey for Nottingham Forest at the end of the 1984-85 season
Neil Webb left Pompey for Nottingham Forest at the end of the 1984-85 season
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This Christmas sees Played Up Pompey Too hit the shelves.

Written by The News’ chief sports writer, Neil Allen, the book contains fresh interviews with 23 of the Fratton faithful’s favourite players.

Continuing a series of extracts is Neil Webb, who made 139 appearances and scored 38 goals for the club.

I thought I deserved a pay increase to give me parity with others in the squad who had arrived after me and were on a lot of money.

I had spent three years as a first-team regular on £250 a week – so made the first move at the 1984-85 season’s end.

Bally, who was keen on keeping me, asked what it would take for me to stay.

‘You’ve got to at least quadruple my wages. I don’t know what other people are on, but I bet I’m the lowest-paid here,’ was my response.

Obviously, he was going to have to consult the chairman, John Deacon, and the answer came back as ‘No’.

That was it – although I had no idea where my destination would be.

I was approaching 22, had three really good years at Pompey and made my England under-21 debut, yet didn’t get recognition from people at the club. I wasn’t angry, just disappointed.

Days after informing Pompey of my decision, Aston Villa made an approach so I held talks, although barely spoke to their manager, Graham Turner.

Villa’s chairman, Doug Ellis, seized control.

Nottingham Forest were also interested – and when I met Brian Clough I signed on the spot.

He said: ‘I believe you have the choice between us and Aston Villa? Right, the contract is there, you are not leaving this room until you’ve signed it.’

My dad was with me and I was happy with the figures, so it was done.

Clough then picked up the phone, dialled a number and handed it to me. ‘You can tell Graham Turner then!’.

I passed it back to my dad to deal with, bless him!

There were fans who believed I had deserted the club having narrowly missed out on promotion, while I don’t think it went down too well considering weeks earlier I’d collected The News/Sports Mail Player of the Season.

After leaving, I found a little card on my car windscreen outside my Cowplain home – it read ‘Hope you enjoy Forest reserves, from the 657’.

They knew where I lived, but I think it was done lightheartedly. I hope!

That had been my best Pompey season, I scored more goals that year than any other in my career and earned recognition from the supporters – but there was no recognition from the club.

Pompey never negotiated with me. If they had negotiated after the first year I would have signed a longer contract for more money, without a shadow of a doubt.

I must have been the lowest-paid first-team regular during those three years.

It didn’t bother me at the time, it probably annoys me more now upon reflection.

I was on peanuts and worked my socks off – and was not rewarded for it in the end.

Besides, they’d had three years to tie me to a new contract.

n Played Up Pompey Too is priced at £17.99 and available from Waterstones in Portsmouth, Fareham and Petersfield and local newsagents.

It can also be ordered from Amazon.