RamsTrust meets Stuart Webb – Part 2

RamsTrust meets Stuart Webb – Part 2

In Part 1 of our interview, Stuart gave his views on ‘building a club, not a team’, how he saved Derby County from extinction in 1984, an independent regulator, and Supporters’ Boards.

Football innovators

As well as saving Derby County from going out of business at the High Court in 1984, Stuart is also remembered for his creativity in securing commercial sponsorship for the Rams at a time when crowds at the Baseball Ground were half that of bigger clubs in the division.

“We were the first club to sell season tickets for two years. It was great marketing which gave fans a discount on buying season tickets for two years in advance. Fans were paying us double, so we had double the money to go buy players. It provided additional cash for the club to challenge the big boys in a very competitive transfer market, including the likes of Colin Todd. It was a huge win-win for all parties, but other clubs took up a legal challenge with the league saying that there was no guarantee of the club being in Division 1 in the second year of the deal. All these ideas were unique to football, but it was about creating a brand.”

Under Stuart Webb, Derby County almost became the first professional British club to wear a shirt with a sponsor. In Clough, Maxwell & Me, Stuart discusses the famous Saab sponsorship deal that didn’t quite go to plan as, due to their commitments to the TV companies, the FA refused to allow the Rams to advertise the Swedish car manufacturer on their kit in the 1977/78 season.

“We were looking to grow our family and fan base which would in turn attract top class players who were quite keen to buy into our project. Saab came in with £300,000 and 20 Saab cars for the players. Denis Hill-Wood at Arsenal [chairman at the Gunners, and an influential voice at the FA] opposed what I was trying to do saying ‘How could you prostitute these wonderful shirts of ours with a name of a brand?’ Arsenal weren’t moving with the times and were trying anything to protect their own backs. Eventually the Saab deal was knocked back by the FA – but just look at Arsenal now and what they have earnt from sponsorship and stadium rights with Emirates.”

“We were buying better players and winning, it was mysterious to everyone in the game. I was approached by Chelsea and met Liverpool owner Sir John Moores, who were looking at what we were doing off the field. We were creating a big noise about Derby but could only do that because the team was successful. We were up against Manchester United with 50,000 gates and I remember Matt Busby and Don Revie asking ‘how can you manage?’. I met Matt Busby at the Mackworth Hotel when United travelled back from an away game. He asked how we managed to cope with 22,000-25000 gates. We used any means we could – such as the Ram newspaper and Junior Rams – to grow our family and grow our brand to attract players to us.”

Another of Stuart’s innovations was the development of the Ram newspaper programme in the 1970s and early 1980s.

“It was an extension of growing the fanbase, another of my ideas that it should be a club rather than a team. Newspapers were writing a story a day about us, so why not do it ourselves and control it? The other thing I did was create the Junior Rams. One time I met John Motson, he told me: ‘Ever since you enrolled my son as a Junior Ram, he has received Christmas cards from Charlie George and Roy McFarland. Did you not know that we are all Arsenal fans?!’ I was creating loyalty through the Junior Rams which is now spinning off to our gates of 25,000-28,000 today. We used all our creative talents to grow the Rams family and our fan base, and as such could attract quality players who saw the potential at Derby and buy into our project.”

Stuart had another creative way of stretching the budget to ensure success on the field for Derby.

“I was keen to get Derbyshire County Council involved in supporting the club and we found a creative way to make the deal work to benefit the whole community and Derby County. David Bookbinder was leader of Derbyshire County Council at the time, and an avid Manchester City fan. I wanted the County Council to become our sponsors and promote Derbyshire on our shirts locally, nationally and globally which didn’t happen – but we found a way for them to help us. They gave us free policing, which was a huge cost in those times, in return for free tickets for the unemployed and the club participating in community related projects. It was without doubt a win-win deal for all parties. It was a balancing act, no money changed hands and this relationship really took football by storm.”

The Rams decline post-1976

“Another of my achievements at Derby was to hold it all together and keep the players onside when Cloughie resigned and managed a smooth transfer from Brian to Dave Mackay. I felt as chief executive it was my job to hold it all together as the club appeared to be imploding with the board squabbling and rows between Brian and the board well publicised at the time. I was the person in the middle who managed to hold it all together and ensure continuity when there were problems with the board and players threatening to strike, writs were going in and protests going on.”

After winning Division 1 in 1972 and 1975, Derby County declined and were eventually relegated to Division 2 at the end of the 1979/1980 season. Stuart feels that the main reason for this was a lack of unity in the boardroom.

New directors had come in lacking football knowledge, coming in for the wrong reasons, there were boardroom squabbles. The focus was away from the club, players and ground and there were boardroom politics and constant bickering. It needed a leader in the boardroom. After 1976 there was no leader and the club drifted. There was the wrong philosophy, the wrong people running the club. It didn’t feel right, and it drifted through to the team.”

Another example of the importance of building a club, not a team.

Naming a new stadium

Stuart was also a strong supporter of having ‘the Baseball Ground’ as part of the new stadium name in 1997, which eventually was named Pride Park Stadium.

“My dream was getting Toyota as a sponsor for the stadium, but I wasn’t able to engineer it. Our unique situation was that we had a super name – the Baseball Ground – known throughout the world. I was pushing for the ‘New Baseball Ground’, or even just the ‘Baseball Ground’. But other directors wanted a new start. Pride Park is named after an industrial park situated between Derby and Nottingham – what history has it got football wise? The Baseball Ground was unique but we ripped it up and threw it away. I was outvoted, some new members on the board had their own agenda – but you don’t leave behind a unique name and let part of your history go. My view is at the time we should have asked the fans.”

The current Derby team and its promotion chances

“I think the manager [Paul Warne] is good, he is a football man who knows his way around the lower divisions. It’s similar to Arthur Cox when I got him from Newcastle.” [Cox took over at Derby after relegation to the Third Division in 1984, then led the Rams to promotion two years later and in 1987 returned Derby to Division 1 after winning the Second Division].

“Peter Taylor always used to tell the board: ‘top 6 by Christmas’ then he would look around the table and follow up by saying with a twinkle in his eye: ‘Of course Mr Chairman, we could always do with a new striker to finish the job!’”

“I am confident the club is pointing in the right direction and the fans will soon be enjoying the good times once again.”

RamsTrust have copies of Clough, Maxwell & Me for sale. These have been donated by Stuart to raise funds for RamsTrust and are priced at £15 each plus £3.50 delivery (UK only). If you would like to buy a copy, please make payment of £18.50 by PayPal or credit card by clicking on the Donate icon on this page. Remember to also send an email to membership@ramstrust.org.uk with the address where you would like us to send the book.

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