President Dick Knight has revealed how he earned Albion more than £1 million for Gareth Barry - after Aston Villa tried to steal him for just £3,000.

Barry plays the 793rd game of a glittering career tomorrow for West Brom against the Seagulls at the Hawthorns.

The Hastings-born midfielder, who overtook Ryan Giggs in September as the Premier League's appearance record holder, began his journey as a schoolboy with Albion.

Villa landed him but for much more than they had bargained for, thanks to the determination of Knight.

Albion's then-chairman fought them through the FA's transfer tribunal process and secured a groundbreaking victory.

Knight told The Argus: "It was remarkable, because he was a player who had not even played in our reserve team as a 16-year-old.

"We'd had him since the age of nine with my great nephew, Michael Standing.

"They grew up together, were best friends. Gareth went to Villa with Michael and broke into the Villa team when he was 17. Because of that I was able to negotiate with the FA tribunal.

"Villa offered us £3,000, which was the minimum they had to offer. I refused to accept that.

"I remember going to the tribunal and negotiating on the basis that we had developed him as a player since he was nine years of age.

The Argus: "John Gregory (above), who was the manager (of Villa) at that time, came into the tribunal having arrived back from Celta Vigo where they had played the night before, very full of himself, saying he was the one that saw him as a defender.

"I knew that Gareth had played at left-back and left-side midfield.

"I had seen him play many times, because of my connection with Michael Standing, so I absolutely knew his history.

"I negotiated on the basis that here potentially was a future England player and we should be compensated accordingly.

"In the end the amount of money I got was over £1 million. The total amount was £1,075,000 with the various awards.

"The top part of it was him playing for England, which of course he did. I remember Brian Horton our manager at the time nudging me under the table during the negotiations with the FA tribunal, saying you're Brighton's Perry Mason (TV series lawyer)!

"Derek Allan (secretary) was there, because he knew all the legals of contracts and also Les Rogers (deceased), who was Gareth's and Michael's coach. That was the team I took with me.

"It took all day and when they filed back in having heard our case and Aston Villa's case they then started reading out all the money.

"Here was a team near the bottom of League Two, struggling with a player who had dropped through the system and it was the first test of that system. I was able to take advantage of that really."

Former Albion midfielder Gregory was furious. He claimed: "Dick Knight wouldn't recognise Gareth Barry if he stood on Brighton beach in an Albion shirt with a ball tucked under his arm and a seagull on his head."

The Argus: History has proved the price Villa paid was still a snip. Barry, 37 next month (above), has played in the top flight for 20 years for Villa, Manchester City, Everton and West Brom. He also won 53 England caps.

Knight said: "He's looked after himself and he's been lucky with injuries but he's had a great career. As I said to Doug Ellis (then Villa chairman) several years later 'You've got him for a steal for £1 million' and he said 'You're right.'

"It was a bit more than the £3,000 we were offered initially. Gareth is a wonderful professional and he's an example to all young professional players today in terms of being determined, true to yourself and getting the best out of your body and your ability.

"He has been the model professional throughout his career and I'm so proud of him because we played a part in developing him in the first place."

Knight is enjoying watching the club he saved from the threat of extinction now mixing it in the Premier League under owner-chairman Tony Bloom.

"I go to the away games but I tend to go with the fans," he said. "The away games with Brighton are brilliant, everyone enjoys themselves.

"Up to now we have not been humiliated at all in an away game and hopefully that will continue.

"I love being part of that experience. They all enjoy us being in the Premier League and many of them thank me for providing that opportunity.

"I'm a football fan, an Albion fan, I enjoy being with the Albion fans. I was probably never cut out to be a boardroom type. I just did it because needs must.

"I enjoy home games in the directors' box and boardroom, because I look out over the stadium.

"Bill Kenwright (Everton), who I have known for many years, said to me recently 'Dick, this stadium is a wonderful testament to your determination to save the club'. Peter Coates at Stoke...I know a lot of Premier League chairmen and I am enjoying meeting them in the home games in my role as club president.

"The League position is slightly false in a sense. Although we are 12th there are not many points between that position and the lower reaches of the League.

"We need to step up and keep that form going. So far we have done really well. Chris (Hughton) has made a lot out of this team and squad of players and hopefully there's more to come."