Brighton Journal this week had the pleasure of meeting and speaking to Ann Spike, whose maternal Grandfather Charlie Webb, both played for and managed Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club.
Born in Ireland on 4 September 1886, Charlie Webb enjoyed an outstanding career as an inside-forward for Albion from 1909 until the break out of war in 1914, making 248 apperances and scoring 73 goals for the club.
Following the end of the Great War, Webb became manager of the seaside club from 1919 until 1947, a period covering 28 years that saw him take charge of 1,215 matches – by far the greatest number of matches by any Brighton Manager.
A man respected by everyone in the world of football, he was part of Brighton and Hove Albions history for a total of nearly 40 years, and was subsequently nicknamed ‘Mr Albion’.
The above image shows Charlie Webb as player and manager for Brighton but also as an international. Charlie Webb was the first Brighton player to be capped at full international level, representing Ireland on three occasions, as Ann firstly explains to us:
“His father was in the Black watch regiment back in the 1800’s and was stationed in the Curragh in Ireland when Granddad was born – Grandad was born in Northern Ireland and hence why he played for Ireland.”
The family moved around following Sgt Webb’s postings and young Webb spent some of his childhood in Edinburgh Castle before settling in Worthing, Sussex.
As a 16-year-old, Webb played first-team football for the town club, Worthing F.C and in his second season, he contributed to Worthing winning a treble of the Sussex Senior Cup, the West Sussex Senior League, and a local charity cup.
In 1904 Webb, following in the family tradition, joined the Army and was posted to Ireland, enabling him to turn out for the Bohemians Club of Dublin.
In March 1908 he had a trial with Glasgow Rangers, and later that year was chosen to represent the Irish League in a match against the Fotball League in October. The following month in November he was capped by the Ireland amateur national team where he scored the only goal for Ireland in a match against the England amateurs in Dublin.
His breakthrough with Albion came in January 1909 when on Christmas leave, Charlie was invited to assist Albion, making his debut at West Ham a few days later, scoring in a 1-1 draw. But after being penalised by Army authorities for featuring for a professional club, Charlie immediately purchased his release from service and joined the Albion as an amateur, returning to the side in February 1909.
On his choice to become a footballer, Ann said: “His father didn’t want him to play football at all, so he hid it from his father, which is why he was amateur to start off with.”
A series of splendid displays for Albion soon attracted the attention of the Irish selectors, and on 15 March 1909 he became the first Albion player to gain international honours, making his debut for Ireland against Scotland. He would go on to win two more full caps against Scotland and Wales.
In 1909-10 as an inside-forward, he played in every Southern League game, scoring nine goals as Albion won the Southern League championship. This achievement earned them a place in the FA Charity Shield in which they faced reigning Football League champions Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge in London.
Impressively, Webb scored the only goal in Albion’s FA Charity Shield triumph over Aston Villa, which became one of the clubs greatest ever achievements. However because he was an amateur at the time, Webb couldn’t be rewarded with prize money for his efforts, instead Ann explains:
“he was given a tie-pin with a shamrock and there’s a pearl in it. My mother when he died, made it into a little charm to go on a neckless – which I now have and often wear which is really nice.”
It was after the Charity Shield victory performance, Ann stated that, “then he actually signed professional papers with Albion, which was one of the strongest clubs in the UK at the time.”
Ann’s mother Joyce, who was a born on the same day as the Charity Shield victory in 1910, can be seen pictured below as a baby with her mother Minnie Webb and her father Charlie Webb:
A superply built athlete, Charlie Webb notably finished the 1912/13 season as top scorer for Brighton and went on to set a club record for goals scored in the Southern League with 64, more than any other Albion player.
However his playing career was effectively brought to an end by a serious leg injury sustained in November 1914, which saw him play only a few games towards the end of 1914-15.
When the Great war broke out, Charlie re–joined the Army as a second lieutenant and later promoted the ranking of Captain. In March 1918 though, Captain Webb was captured by the Germans and spent the remaining 8 months of the war as a prisoner.
Ann states how Webb was then offered the position of Albion manager: “he actually received a letter at the end of the war, when he was still in Germany at a prisoner of war camp – obviously it took some time to repatriate people, appointing him manager of the Albion.”
The 32 year-old former player returned to Albion in June 1919 and began rebuilding both the team and the Albion’s home ground – the Goldstone Ground.
A keen judge of talent, Webb signed some excellent players for the Albion, and Ann accounts one particular occasion, stating: “he even met up with the late Queen mothers father in Scotland, who was a director or chairman of a football club in Scotland, because he wanted to purchase a player.”
Within a very limited budget, over the next 20 years Webb put together some fine teams which finished in the top five of the Third Division (South) on ten occasions. In fact he was offered the managers job at Tottenham Hotspur, but turned it down, preferring to stay with the club he loved.
Well respected by his players and professionals in the game, Ann states: “He was never called boss which they are called now, he was called ‘Mr Webb, they all addressed him as Mr Webb.”
Ann then recalls a story which was told by her mother Joyce about how the referee for one of Albion’s matches ended up travelling with Charlie Webb and the Brighton team to the game:
“Over Christmas they tended to have games away and at home in close proximity, and on this occasion I think there was some bad weather.It was very rare that the football association would allow the referee who was going to referee their match, to travel on the coach with the team. But because he (Charlie Webb) was so well respected and they (the FA) knew that there’d be no trouble like bribery or anything like that, the referee travelled with them.”
Of course to Ann, Charlie Webb was first and foremost her mothers father and her grandfather .
The above photo shows Webb and Anns grandmother Minnie Webb in 1934, in their garden on the day Anns mother got married, just before they went to the church.
On her mothers relationship with Webb, Ann states, “She was very close with him, in fact she always said she was closer to him than to her mother – he was a very loving sort of father.”
On how Webb was a true family man, Ann who’s sister Diane was born in 1935, adds: “In the closed season, the team still stayed together and they used to go and play Cricket matches. Diane was born in April and taken everywhere in a carry cot to all these matches.”
During the Second World War, Charlie was very much responsible for keeping the Albion running from day to day. When the game returned to normal he remained in charge of the side, but in May 1947, at the age of 60, he made way for Tommy Cook. Charlie continued as general manager, looking after administration, but retired from the Goldstone in 1948.
On her own memories of Charlie Webb, whose football career came to an end in 1947, Ann stated: “of course I was born in 1945, which was when he was just finishing – so I was really a baby. I never really knew of his history – which you don’t as a young child do you.”
Instead for Ann when she was growing up, ‘Mr Albion’ was her loving grandfather who lived at 15 Frith Road, Hove (close to the Goldstone Ground), with Ann’s Grandma, which was just around the corner to where Ann lived in Park View Road (opposite Hove Park).
Ann recalls: “I used to go around and see them all the time in Frith road and of course in my day you had much more freedom as a child, you could just wonder around, play in the park ect.”
She explained how her Grandad kept his sporting prowess going, remembering: “what was lovely was as I got older, when we did sports days at school and did high jump and things – he used to train me to do high jump and things like that.”
Park View Road is opposite Hove Park and the Goldstone ground was at the bottom of the road, which meant Ann would easily be able to attend live Albion matches growing up. Her parents and grandparents also had season tickets, and Ann explained her football memories:
“All those years ago, 20 minutes before the game ended, they used to open the gates and you could just go in. I knew where they (granddad and grandma) sat so I used to go in and join them and sit with them.”
The above photo shows Webb with the board of directors for the Albion just before he retired.
On Webb’s continued association with the Albion, Ann adds: “A lot of the players and former players knew him and respected him, there were several who actually lived in Frith Road when he was retired. Ex Brighton player Dave Sexton was always very respectful and would pop over and speak with him”.
After his retirement, Webb worked as an usher at the Cricket ground in Hove and would show people to their seats. On this, Ann recalls a story in which former English football professional and personality Jimmy Hill, came to a match::
“This particular day it was quite a big match and Jimmy Hill came to the stand. He (Webb) knew full well who he (Jimmy Hill) was but he said to Jimmy Hill, ‘oh could I see your ticket please’, as though he didn’t know him! Because Grandad disliked people being pompous, so he made Jimmy Hill route around for his ticket!”
Charlie passed away in 1973 at the age of 86, a year after his wife and Anns Grandma Minnie died.
A tree was planted in his memory in Hove Park in 1973 by his daughter Joyce which also coincided with the 1973 Government sponsored campaign ‘Plant A Tree In ’73’.
Always a gentlemen in a very hard business, he won the respect and affirmation of the numerous players that passed through his care at the Goldstone, and gained admiration throughout the professional game.
His appreciation was shown with a long-service award. Additionally in September 1949, he enjoyed a second benefit, which saw first Division Arsenal and Portsmouth playing in a testimonial match at the Goldstone Ground before a gate of more than 13,000, and a plaque was unveiled at the family home in Frith Road in 2003 by former Albion chairman Dick Knight.
Ann is a lifelong supporter of the Albion and when the club moved to the Amex had a season ticket in the West stand, although she added, “we used to have to walk up 230 steps to get to our seats!”
On the Albion legend who had a remarkable football career, but also more importantly her loving Grandfather, she concludes:
“He was a lovely man, very quiet unassuming and he wasn’t very boastful at all.”
“It is amazing how many people who support the club know of him. I can’t believe that he would even imagine that there’s so much interest in him and his history.”