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Archive - Sunday, 15 April 2001
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Time to honour one of Albion's all-time greats
There is no visible sign at that hideous assortment of shed off Old Shoreham Road that a much-loved but sometimes reviled football ground occupied the site for 95 years.
In Hove Park opposite, the Goldstone, after which the ground was named, squats amid the spring flowers and smooth asphalted paths. But you have to be a local to make the connection and conjures up times remembered.
But, I suggest, there is a way of preserving a chunk of old Albion history. Why not have a blue plaque mark the house, No. 17 Frith Road and just off Sackville Road, where Charlie Webb lived for all of his time with the club as player and secretary/manager?
There are not shortage of such distinguishing emblems all over Brighton and Hove. But the man who managed the town's football club for 28 years and gained the universal respect of his fellows, is very much a distant memory and I think that is a shame.
Charlie Webb was very much old school and saw no reason to change. After home matches he would put the gate money in a tin box, tuck it under his arm and take it home until the cash could be banked on the Monday.
Some say he kept the box under his bed in that little terraced house, no more than a couple of minutes walk from the ground.
Of course the Albion must go forward in the 21st century and good luck to them in their quest for a new home, but any institution that ignores or forgets its past is condemned to failure in the long run.
It is incomprehensible to the youngsters of today that one man, in this case Webb, could manager a League club so long without a break. If fact, he was the heart of the club from 1919 until 1947 during which time 1,215 first team matches were played. But that is only part of the Webb saga - he played 275 games before the Great War so his connection with Albion was for a total of 40 years.
I met him on several occasions and was struck by his remarkable alertness and perception and charm of personality. I don't know, but it is my guess that he never uttered a foul word in his life, although there must have been sore temptation given the way some of the players behaved both on and off the field.
One of the happiest moments of Charlie's life was celebrating his diamond wedding anniversary with Minnie when the Albion directors feted the couple at the Goldstone. There to offer traditional congratulations were two players whom Webb had signed, Bobby Farrell and Joe Wilson.
When standards among some of the hierarchy slipped and finally plunged to unacceptable levels, the end was in sight for the Goldstone.
Personal integrity helped make Charlie so special, that and a spotless reputation as a player that began as a 17-year-old while serving in the army. Various postings enabled him to play for Worthing whom he helped achieve notable local success until, in 1908 he was chosen to play for the Irish League against the Football League. His preferred role was inside-left and soon after winning an Irish amateur cap he joined Albion who were then playing in the Southern League.
The aftermath was a 12 months ban for turning out with a professional club and a tut-tutting FA imposed a fine of £5 on Albion. This was not at all to Charlie's liking and he bought himself out of the army, but instead of returning to the Albion as a profession-al, he remained an amateur. The Irish selectors kept faith with him and so Webb became the first Albion player to gain international honours.
He soon became indispen-sable when an ever-present in the 1909-10 Southern League winning side and scoring the only goal against Aston Villa, the League champions, in the FA Charity Shield. There was no financial reward, but a grateful club gave Charlie a gold tie pin. Shortly after he agreed to become a professional.
At 5ft 8in and a fighting weight of 12 stone, Webb had just the build for a brave and fearless forward and his tally of 64 Southern League goals was more than any other Albion player. Eventually injuries caught up with him and he did not play many games after the outbreak of the war.
At the end of the 1914-15 season a number of the players joined up. While a leg injury against Millwall had put paid to Charlie's playing career he was A1 so far as the army was concerned and he became 2nd Lieutenant Webb of the King's Royal Rifle Corps. He was posted to the Western Front in July, 1917 and by September had been raised to acting captain.
It was while leading a patrol near Nesle on March 25, 1918 that Captain Webb was taken prisoner. What happened was terribly bad luck. On hearing a challenge in French, Webb, not unreasonably, thought they were among allies.
Instead, it turned out to be French-speaking Germans and, seeing their position was hopeless, Webb surrendered to save unnecessary loss of life. So a gallant officer and his brave men sat out the last few months of the war in the fortress of Mainz.
He kept in touch with home and wrote also to Albert Underwood, Albion's secret-ary, informing him of the position. It was while Webb awaited repatriation that he received a letter form H.J. Miles, the Albion chairman, inviting him to accept the job of manager as Jack Robson had moved to Manchester United.
Surely no manager had been appointed in stranger circumstances and Webb returned in December 1918, a month after the armistice and was demobilised in June the following year. Two years later he was granted the rank of captain but nobody addressed him by that rank in civilian life.
The Goldstone to which Webb returned was derelict and in places overgrown with weeds. Players rallied round, the boundary fencing was replaced, turnstiles and door locks oiled and made workable after rusting up and the leaking roofs of the West and South stands repaired. The north banking was shored-up and the pond providing drainage for the Old Shoreham Road was drained off.
His first priority, of course, was to get a team together and Webb's uncanny knack of bringing fine players to the club bore fruit. Soon the club was elevated to new found League status and it was a tribute to Webb that his selections finished in the top five of Division Three (South) on ten occasions.
Managers did not move about much then and, when Tottenham expressed an interest in Charlie, he declined. There was no turning for Mr Webb and he again showed his resourcefulness in World War Two by keeping the club going and serving as an officer in the Home Guard.
Aged 60 he relinquished responsibility for team matters to Tommy Cook. That was in the early summer of 1947 and a year later Charlie handed over the reins of general manager when Don Welsh arrived.