Keith Webb is a former Norwich City coach and current manager of England and Great Britain's Cerebral Palsy football teams. He is 54 and lives in Thorpe St Andrew.NCFC: Hi Keith, thanks for talking to us. Can you first of all describe your current roles that you have with the FA?
Day-to-day I am a Regional Coach Development Manager, and my main work is to develop coaches in Norfolk under the new commission sanctioned by the chairman Greg Dyke. He wants to make sure that coaching and coach education improves in this country to help our ambitions to win the World Cup in 2022.
I was offered the job of England Cerebral Palsy manager out of the blue, and that’s about working with the Elite end of the Cerebral Palsy pathway. I’ve been privileged to work with the squad now for over 18 months, and in that time we’ve made huge strides in terms of the development of players, teams and squads.
It culminated in the World Championships in June, where we finished fifth overall, which is the highest position England have ever finished. I’m proud of that, and because of that I was offered the opportunity to take the Great Britain squad to the Paralympics next year.
NCFC: It must have been quite an exciting challenge for you when you were offered the job with the CP team? Did you have to think about it much?
When I was first offered it, I didn’t realise what the job entailed. I was having a discussion and they asked me whether I would be interested in taking charge of the CP squad.
It’s a totally different game to what I was used to. I didn’t even realise there was such a thing as a national CP team, and certainly not in the format that it’s played. It’s 7-a-side game, there are no offsides and certain classifications have to be played at certain times.
We just wanted to do the best that we could, and I brought in a lot of the things that I learned while I was at Norwich. It seems to have worked quite well so far.
NCFC: How much have you enjoyed it since taking the job?
It’s totally inspirational. Each player has a story about how they got to that particular position. They’ve had to undergo hardships and challenges that players in the professional game haven’t had to overcome.
They’re very grounded and very humble, and they’re prepared to do anything and everything that I ask them to make us better as a group. The proof is in the pudding with the progress we’ve made so far.
NCFC: How important is football and sport in general for your players?
For some of them, it’s their life. I treat them as footballers with a disability, not disabled people who play football. That’s a big thing, and they respond to that. It’s not a case of me treating them any differently to any players that I worked with at Norwich.
The demands that I asked in terms of the standards and quality is the level I would ask of a professional club. I have ex-professionals within the structure of the squad anyway, and they appreciate the way that I treat them.
It’s nothing new to me and the players have responded in a really positive way.
NCFC: And now with Great Britain, you’ll be heading to the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro next year! That is an unbelievable opportunity for you and your players.
Yes, we’ve qualified. We’ve got a few tournaments and other opportunities to work with the squad. We’re in the process at the moment of whittling down a squad of 25 to 18. That will be decided around Christmas time, and then we’ll hit the ground running in the New Year.
It’s not often you get to represent your country, and it’s not often you get the opportunity to represent Great Britain. To be able to do that in probably the third biggest sporting competition on the planet, is a huge privilege and an honour.
NCFC: Let’s talk about your time at Norwich now Keith – the Club was a huge part of your life, can you just describe your affinity with City?
I spent the majority of my working life there. I was very fortunate to be in and around good, footballing people who I learned a great deal from. They gave me the opportunity that probably nowadays wouldn’t be afforded to a person my age at the time.
I must have seen everything in terms of promotions, relegations, play-off finals, FA Cup semi-finals and European football, so it was a great time to be there. It was a time when there was a lot of good work being done throughout the football club.
NCFC: You were here for a number of years, what was your most enjoyable period from your time at Norwich?
I had a great working relationship with Nigel Worthington and Doug Livermore during that period, but also when I look back at some of the players that we produced during the 15 years that I was youth coach, it gave me a great sense of pride and achievement to see so many players come through into the first team.
I can’t say that there was a real, definitive period that was the best, but from the time when I first went to Norwich back in 1980 as a player, to working in the office and being a coach, it was a great part of the my life and a time that I look back on with very fond memories.
NCFC: You mentioned your 15 years as youth coach. The Academy structure nationwide has changed a lot, what are your thoughts on the opportunities young players get to make it in the game?
During my time, it was a different period. At one point we were matching Manchester United in terms of financial input to the Academy, and we were bringing in some really high quality players who did the club a service at first-team level at a later date. They were players who were hungry and who were determined to make a living.
If I was look at it now from my position, things have changed and players have changed. It’s not easy to get in the first-team. Obviously Alex Neil has to do his level best to make sure Norwich City stay in the Premier League, and that’s a very hard, harsh learning environment to blood youngsters.
NCFC: You still live locally Keith, do you still follow Norwich’s fortunes on the pitch?
I still follow them but getting down to Carrow Road nowadays is difficult because of the work I do on Saturdays. You can’t work in a place for so long and not stay interested, it’s always the first result I look out for at the weekends.
I wish the club every success and I hope going forward they maintain their Premier League status.
NCFC: From a coaching perspective, you’ve been doing that for a long time – if a young coach comes to you and asks for one piece of advice, what do you say to them?
There has never been a better opportunity to try and get into professional football. The number of coaches in the Academy now vastly outweighs the number when I was there.
One piece of advice I would give is to become a student of the game. Watch as many first-team games as you possibly can, and one thing that probably goes above coaching is to learn what makes players tick in the age-group that you work in.
If you look at Alex Neil’s managerial skills, he has an ability to get on with players and get them to play for him, and that’s probably as big a bit of advice I can give – to get players on your side by understanding them as people before you start coaching them. If you don’t have that relationship, nowadays people just won’t listen to you.
NCFC: Final question: you have the Paralympics with Great Britain next year, but what do you see the long-term future holding for yourself?
Working for the Football Association is a great honour. It was one of my ambitions, and I’m getting to the stage in life now where most of the ambitions I had have been achieved.
I don’t want to rest on my laurels, I want to try to keep improving as a person and a coach, and to continue to learn everything there is about the game, and I can see it being that way forever.
Images courtesy of the FA