Neil Webb: Brian Clough wouldn't let me leave the room until I joined Nottingham Forest ahead of Villa - then I got a Portsmouth 657 send off

Neil Webb has revealed how Brian Clough threatened not to let him leave the room until he had accepted a deal to join Nottingham Forest.

Monday, 27th April 2020, 12:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 30th April 2020, 8:02 pm
Neil Webb (centre) scored 38 goals in 139 Pompey appearances during three seasons on the south coast

And his decision to complete the May 1985 switch also earned him a personalised message from the 657, with Pompey fans unhappy over the midfielder’s £250,000 departure.

Webb was hot property in the summer of 1985 having won England under-21 recognition and been crowned The News/Sports Mail’s Player of the Season for Alan Ball’s Division Two side.

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‘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 season’s end,’ he told Played Up Pompey Too.

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

‘My response was: “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.”

‘Obviously he was going to have to consult the chairman, John Deacon, and the answer came back as ‘No’. I told Bally “Right, I’m going then”, to which he replied “I thought you might”.

Neil Webb evades a challenge during the 5-1 win over Oldham in February 1985

‘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, detailing my wages, emphasising how there would be no rise during the contract’s duration and specifying the size of signing-on fee. That was it, not much room for negotiation there.

‘Most baffling of all – where was the manager? I spoke to him for 10 minutes, that was it, instead the chairman was doing all the talking.

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

‘Clough was wearing his squash gear, he always did, with white shorts, white socks and a green top, but on this occasion was not accompanied by his racquet.

‘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!

‘Clough asked how much I wanted and proceeded to knock £50 off my demands for every year, but gave me what I asked, as well as a signing-on fee and a car.

‘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.’

Neil Webb made 139 Pompey appearances and scored 38 goals from June 1982 until May 1985.

Played Up Pompey Too, released in 2017, is still available from Amazon. While Played Up Pompey Three, which contains more of your favourite Blues players, is out in September.

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