Tangled Webb

Brentford are being destroyed by their own chief executive. Dave Lane profiles the man responsible

At the start of the season the new Brentford chairman, Tony Swaisland, confessed in an interview with Bees fanzine Beesotted that David Webb had forgotten more about football than he will ever know. This football naivety is obviously shared by the rest of the club’s officials, as Webb has proceeded to fool the lot of them by becoming the major shareholder in a club he is now, skilfully, holding to ransom.

Over the last twelve months Webb has been playing out his own version of Fantasy Football, starting with his threat to quit as manager after a defeat at Preston last season, when he was supposedly heckled by a single fan, right through to his ‘resignation’ as chief executive during the press conference held to announce the sacking of managerial duo Eddie May and Clive Walker last month.

Sadly, the Brentford board have proved to be poorer judges of character than the supporters who they have accused of being ‘anti-Brentford’ for daring to speak out about what was happening in front of our noses. As with all experienced football managers accustomed to being put under the scrutiny of suspicious fans, Webb has always found a seemingly justifiable excuse for selling our best players and not making transfer profits available for new signings. But the events in the close season were so bizarre that even the staunchest Webb fans have changed camps.

Firstly, every player who could be sold, was allowed to leave. Last season’s leading goalscorer Carl Asaba went to Reading and three first team defenders, Barry Ashby, Brian Statham and Paul Smith, headed east to Gillingham. Although the whole spine of the team had been ripped out, the combined deals earned the club just £1.2 million. Webb and Swaisland promised that every penny of the cash would be spent on replacements, and issued the annual battle cry about the club’s main priority being to gain promotion to the First Division (we had, after all, reached the Division Two play-off final in May).

Webb then resigned as manager on the eve of the new campaign, which began with a 3-0 defeat at Millwall, and then mysteriously head-hunted Eddie May as his replacement. May had been with Dundalk in Ireland after spells at Cardiff and Torquay, whom he had guided to 92nd spot in the League by a margin of 11 points. Clive Walker, lately of Woking, was appointed as May’s assistant. Nobody else had been allowed to apply for the vacancy. The fans were stunned.

Poor Eddie and Clive were doomed to failure from day one as none of the ‘exodus’ cash was released for new players. A couple of non-League wannabes and three Spurs reserves were drafted in for a combined outlay of less that £100,000. A quick glance at the league table tells you exactly what has happened since.

It is also not surprising that Brentford’s crowds have dropped by more than any other club in the League, down a massive 30% on last season’s figures. The stay-aways are not alone, though, Webb himself is refusing to come to games. Nothing Webb has done since his consortium took over Brentford adds up. He is the majority shareholder in the football club but is not the chairman. Why? So Swaisland can take all the flak while he is nowhere to be seen? He resigned as manager before our opening game at Millwall and didn’t even go to the match. Why? So he could wash his hand of a team that he knew would fail?

He hired a virtual unknown as manager after selling every player with experience. Why? Because he knew May would be cheap and so he wouldn’t have to pay out much compensation if he needed a scapegoat for a poor start? He told everybody that there was £1m to spend while in reality there has been a transfer ban in place. Why? So the few remaining fans would keep off his back while at the same time the company would look attractive to potential buyers because there was money in the bank?

For us to be landed in such a vulnerable and dangerous position so soon after the Brighton fiasco beggars belief. There is no reason for a wheeler dealer like Webb to buy shares in a club he has said he has no emotional feelings for other than to make money on them. Webb may have resigned as chief executive but no one has been fooled into thinking that he is not still in complete control of Brentford FC.

Whether the failure to get promotion last season worked in Webb’s favour, by making the club more affordable to his consortium, we will never know, but Brentford fans are now kicking themselves that supporter disunity may have helped Webb gain such a strong hold on our club.

An Independent Supporters Club (BIAS) has been set up at last and further protests at how our club is being run are planned for matchdays. However, with such a large shareholding, and with important board members seemingly frightened to stand up to David Webb, we face an uphill struggle to get him out before he cashes in.

From WSC 131 January 1998. What was happening this month