I first wrote this blog on my personal blogging site, www.kelseydemariablog.wordpress.com. But then the gaffer asked me to put it on Severn Sport for the enjoyment of all our readers, so here you go!
Tom Webb is Gloucester City AFC’s all-time leading appearance holder and has turned out for the club a massive 601 times, with his 600th game coming last Saturday in a 2-1 defeat to Stalybridge Celtic. Currently in his 15th season with the Tigers, Webb made his 500th start for the Tigers on the 30th of August last year, an achievement that was celebrated with a 4-1 demolition job of Guiseley in Yorkshire. After the game I spoke to Gloucester City manager Tim Harris, he said:
There’s no other way to describe it, Tom Webb is a City legend, he’s fantastic. I’ve kept it under wraps but he’s had to deal with a serious [injury] problem. It shows the making of the man with how he’s dealt with it. His non-stop energy and harassment of the other team’s players just gives us a positive aspect in that centre of midfield.
A former Luton Town schoolboy, Webb impressed the youth coaches at Gloucester City and was often promoted to the first team (albeit on the bench) during the 2000/01 season. Normally a central midfielder, Webb was used mainly out on the right wing after making his debut against Bromsgrove on April 21st 2001. Webb failed to make his mark in the Tigers’ team and it was only when boss at the time Chris Burns played him in behind the front two that he finally made an impact. Luckily for the City fans this was in the FA Trophy against Woking during their quarter final run that season.
It is clear to see Webb’s passion for Gloucester City whenever he steps out onto the pitch wearing the yellow and black strip, he utterly adores the club. So much so that even when he was dangled the carrot with an opportunity to train with Crewe Alexandra whilst he was at university, Webb turned them down, opting to stay with his beloved Gloucester City.
I’ve interviewed Tom Webb a few times in the past and he is genuinely one of the nicest men you could ever meet. One of the more recent chats was after City’s pre-season friendly against Forest Green Rovers on the 22nd July 2014. During the interview, Webb spoke about the feeling of making his debut as a 16 year old:
I was doing AS Levels at Crypt School at the time, it was a massive occasion – Bromsgrove away if my memory serves me right. Over 14 years ago now so yeah, getting a bit old now! I never thought I’d make this many appearances for the club. I thought there was no chance. You never think that at the time, all you think about is getting on and getting some minutes, take every game as it comes and take nothing for granted.
A PE Teacher at Chosen Hill school in Gloucester by day, Webb is notable by his absence from the City starting XI whenever he is left out. The energy he brings to the side really is second-to-none and he’s always one of the last one’s off the training ground. Webb is naturally fit, a fact supported by his 2004/05 season where he played every minute of every game. However, Webb doesn’t believe he has a right to be in the starting XI every week:
Hopefully this season I can cement my place in the team for the first game of the season, fingers crossed. I’m still struggling a bit with my hamstring that I injured last Christmas time. I’ve been battling trying to get back from that but I hope I can be challenging to get back in that team. That’s my aim.
Like any footballer, Webb is striving for his team to achieve the best possible and said that you should always aim for the highest standards, something that Gloucester City fans can widely agree haven’t been seen at the club since the team gained promotion to the Conference North in 2008/09. He told me that he’d much rather prefer to reach the Conference North play-offs than get to the FA Cup 3rd Round and draw one of the ‘big boys’ on the TV. He is also a realist however and when I spoke to him in July, he knew that it would be a tough and challenging season and he was not wrong. The Tigers have been embroiled in a relegation scrap all season and currently sit just outside the relegation zone, but with games in hand on teams around them.
One of the most cited issues for this has been the very young average age of the Tigers’ squad. Gaffer Tim Harris maintains his belief in the squad that he’s built “for the next 18 months.” Webb also has faith in City’s young guns and when I spoke to him 6 months ago, he placed the utmost importance on them being able to “fill their boots and get games under their belt for Gloucester City.” Maybe one of Gloucester’s young players like Matt Williams or Femi Orenuga could be the next Tom Webb, who knows?
All I know for sure is that Tom Webb’s passion for Gloucester City is clear to see and despite many speculating that he could play at a higher level, Webb maintained his loyalty to the Tigers:
There certainly were a few teams interested in me when I was younger at about aged 19 but I was always going to stay loyal to the club. For someone like me, I live local, it’s a great club with great supporters and I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.
Something Webb also values is the camaraderie between the players, something that is particularly useful on the long coach journeys that Gloucester City have to undertake in the Conference North. He said:
They’re full of good humour really. That trip to Lowestoft on a Tuesday night was pretty arduous after they’d scored a last minute equaliser to take it to a replay and stop us getting to the First Round for the first time in a few years. None of the others are though, we’ve got a great set of lads and it’s very much banter all the way and all the way back really, particularly after a win!
Webb’s passion on the pitch is clear to see as well and he’ll always fully commit to a tackle where he feels he can win the ball, unfortunately sometimes he doesn’t always get there and can lead to handbags on the pitch, notably in the FA Cup 1st Round last season where he was essentially in a wrestling match with Steven Schumacher of Fleetwood Town! Webb recalls the incident:
I just went in for a challenge, I think I got the ball but I kind of came in from behind, loose challenges have been slightly banned nowadays! I think he fell out with me over it and had me round the neck at one point! My daughter was watching for the first time, she thought I was being wrestled on the floor! I just don’t think he liked being tackled really!
Despite City losing the match 2-0, they gave an excellent account of themselves against the League 2 leaders. There have been plenty of high and low points of Webb’s Gloucester City career, just like any footballer really, and for many footballers it is hard to choose your best moment. But Webb is pretty categorical when it comes to his best moment:
Best moment is winning the play-offs and getting to the Conference North definitely. Matt Rose scored that goal off his shinpad on his left leg and he hasn’t stopped mentioning it since!
Webb found it difficult to pick out one particular worst moment though:
I don’t know, obviously disappointing for the gaffer [Dave Mehew] to lose his job last season, but not too many disappointments. I think the one if I had to pick the biggest is that we haven’t played at Meadow Park in 7 years, so let’s hope we can get back there and hopefully I might get a bit of game time there if my legs can still keep me going!
It is at this moment where I find myself becoming uncharacteristically reflective upon Gloucester City’s trials and tribulations not just on the pitch but off it as well. For me, it would be the greatest disappointment I’ve ever seen as a Gloucester City fan if Tom Webb, all-time leading appearance holder, was never to play at Meadow Park again before he retires. The situation regarding Meadow Park is thankfully looking a little more promising now and City are closer to a return and it’s looking promising for Webb’s dream of playing back there once more. However, Webb doesn’t share my optimism as I found out after I interviewed him after his milestone game against Stalybridge Celtic.
What makes this achievement even more remarkable is that Tom Webb is just 30 years old. Despite niggling injuries, including his well-documented back injury, ‘Webby’ – as he’s affectionately known – is still going strong and still appearing week in, week out. This man needs more recognition in the local press and yet doesn’t get anywhere near as much credit as he deserves from people outside of Gloucester City.
I guess there’s only one thing left to say really…
Thank you Webby.
All photos are credited to Neil Phelps.