Following his recent move to Bromley, Byron Webster has been roundly impressed with all he’s seen and heard, so much so that he draws certain parallels with the standout spells of his career to date. The towering defender played his part at both ends of the pitch during those promotion-winning stints at Yeovil Town and Millwall, and he has already been on the scoresheet for his new side in the National League.
From his early non-league experiences with the likes of York City and Harrogate Town, to over a decade in the League (via the Czech Republic), the Yorkshireman knows the game by now – for better and for worse. Enjoyment is very much the order of the day now for the 33-year-old, while continuing to push for more of the success he has previously unlocked with such memorable results. Here is an in-depth and varied conversation with the Ravens’ new man at the back…
Carlisle last season, to Bromley this time – just the 300+ miles apart. Were you based back home in Yorkshire when you were with Carlisle, and now you’ve relocated down south? What’s the set-up?
I travelled in most days to Carlisle. I did stay with Harry McKirdy a few times; we had a flat in Carlisle. It was about an hour and forty drive from where I am, so it’s not ideal to do every day, but it’s not bad to do sometimes. Now down south, that was the main hurdle we had to get over with going to Bromley, but fortunately, the chairman’s been fantastic. Robin (Stanton-Gleaves) has helped me with a flat to stay in, so obviously it’s a good investment for him, the club, and it helps me out fantastically as well.
What was the key factor behind the decision to leave Carlisle, because did they want to keep you?
Yeah, they offered me a contract. It was a weird one last year. I enjoyed my time at Carlisle, a lot of good people there, but there were also, I’d say, snakes. Nothing to do with the management, nothing to do with the owners, the chairman, people like that, they were top drawer and I can’t speak highly enough of them, but other people behind the scenes who seemed to think they had a big input in the club, and I don’t think they had the best intentions. That wasn’t the only reason I didn’t accept the offer at Carlisle. Obviously we were in a lockdown then, I was enjoying my time at home, and I needed to go somewhere where I could enjoy my football. So far, I’ve found that place, in Bromley.
What did that time period after last season being initially suspended look like for you? The fitness aspect obviously but were you inundated with jobs around the house etc.?!
To be fair, I enjoyed lockdown; nothing really changed for me. My house up north is kind of in the sticks, we’re fortunate to sort of be on our own, so there’s me, my wife and two children. So on that side of it, we don’t really see a lot of people anyway. But yeah, I had a list of jobs to do! I’m not very good with DIY but my missus wanted some things sorting; the most she got was me planting a few plants around the garden and things like that. On the fitness side, it was a bit of a break from it really. You’re at home and it was good to get out and do something, and it refreshes you, so I tried to keep a schedule where I did something every single day. There were a lot of good videos you could watch on YouTube, fitness-wise, which were good not just for myself but my wife and children. So yeah, I was pounding the streets running.
— Yeovil Town FC (@YTFC) November 30, 2013
Back to Bromley, it’s fairly easy to see why (manager) Neil Smith is somebody players would want to work with. What is the overall vibe you’ve got so far, actually being there?
Honest people, want to succeed, and very passionate to do that. It reminds me a lot of my time at Yeovil and at Millwall, where I did have success. Honest group of lads who will work their nuts off for each other, demand from each other, and you’ve got a manager there who is honest; whether you want to hear the good things or the bad things, he’s gonna tell you. He drives on, he wants success, and not just him, the chairman and owner wants success. That’s something that I wanted to get involved in and I’ve bought into.
Speaking of relocating, you’ve said before about your time in the Czech Republic (with Baník Most) that it was good because you couldn’t understand what they were saying about you! You also mentioned the days being long there, and only so many TV series you can watch, so outside of training and playing, what were those surroundings and the living situation like?
It was a time where I was young and I’d left York City and got disheartened with the game. My love for it came back so I can’t speak highly enough of my experience out there. The club looked after you fantastically; you had your own apartment, some evenings there were Czech speaking lessons. You’d go to the local shopping centre and just sit there and drink coffee; that’s how I got involved in drinking loads of coffee! It wasn’t a big city so there wasn’t a lot to do, but it’s such a beautiful country, Czech. Prague was only 45 minutes/an hour away, so we’d go into Prague, but because it was an hour away, it was still a bit of a journey. So like I’ve said in previous interviews, the boredom did set in, so that was the main reason for coming back to England.
In that time where you’d become a bit disillusioned with football, were you having to get involved with other things work-wise for a bit?
I’ve never had a proper job, as such. When I was younger, I did a bit of pot-washing, when I was about 14, just to get a few extra pennies, but no. My contract terminated at York City, and it was my dad who, probably like every parent, saw the talent in me. He’s never been a pushy parent – or my mum – but he’s got this way of directing you one way without telling you, so you think you’re making the right decision, but really he’s making the decision for you! That’s the one time where he said to me ‘Byron, don’t give it in, you’ll regret it.’ I went and signed for Harrogate Town, played a couple of games and then the season finished. I was on holiday, came back from there and then went to the Czech Republic, so it all kind of fell into place.
On that subject of a bit of guidance, thinking back over the mix of managers you’ve had over the years, what kind of approach have you felt gets the best from you personally?
I keep mentioning my mum and dad, and they’re the most honest, critically, whether I’m good or bad, so I don’t need anyone to build me up or tell me I’ve done badly. I personally know, and when I get home, I’ll be told! So for me, the thing is just honesty. Whether you like me as a player, don’t like me as a player, I’ve done something wrong, done something right, just be honest. From the main managers I’ve enjoyed working with and have had success with, that’s the thing, honesty. Like I say, it doesn’t need to be a good thing; ‘Byron, you’re useless, buck your ideas up,’ no problem. It’s the ones who are ‘yeah, yeah, I want you around here,’ and then when it comes to it, they don’t want you around there. Just tell us; I never have been one of those players who’s downed tools and been like ‘well, he doesn’t want me so I’m not gonna work hard for him,’ because at the end of the day, it affects my career. I need to work hard for Byron Webster, and me doing well makes whatever team I’m playing for do well. So the players who’ve downed tools, really it only affects them, because there’s another few players the manager can pick anyway.
Which manager(s) has seemed to most understand that, in your experience?
Neil Harris, Gary Johnson, and Sean O’Driscoll as well. Sean O’Driscoll’s probably the most tactically-astute manager I’ve worked under, even though I didn’t play as many games under him due to injury. He was so far ahead of the game when he was at Doncaster; the things we’re doing now, he already had in place back then. It’s no surprise the places I had success that it was with those managers I got on well with – and also, clashed with as well! There was definitely a respect on my part, so I hope that when we did clash, it wasn’t a personal thing, just all of us wanting to win.
— Millwall FC (@MillwallFC) August 8, 2016
Sean O’Driscoll was getting a lot of plaudits in those days, with Doncaster’s playing style in the Championship. What was it that he helped you understand in a different way?
It was the way of training. He trained towards the team you were playing. A lot of training sessions are kind of the same session, but he would tailor it. Say for instance, we were playing against a team that gets it wide, he would put some goals on the edge of the pitches so you have to defend the wide areas. If a team was very direct, he would make sure in training, ‘don’t be tippy-tappying it, make sure it goes direct so we know how we deal with it.’ There were little things with individuals, like with me as a defender, ‘if you can’t win the header against the striker, drop off, because he’s only going to flick it on to you.’ He was massive on ‘don’t go from a good position to a bad position just because you want to win the ball, use your head.’ Tactically, he was fantastic.
The promotions to the Championship (with Yeovil and Millwall) are obvious standouts, but when has felt the most complete time for you overall in your career? Happiest on and off the pitch, great dressing room, and so on.
I’d probably say Millwall. We had a couple of fantastic years there where everything was perfect. Great group of lads, team playing well, no better fans to play for when you’re doing well, and we were successful. In football, you have a lot of teammates and you’re friends with them, but a lot of times, you don’t stay in contact with them. You can pick up the conversation whenever you see them, that’s the best thing about it, but I’d say a lot of the Millwall lads, I’m still in contact with. We’re still in group chats and things like that. It was just a fantastic time.
You’ve done quite well for not picking up many red cards in your career, but there were a couple in that Championship season with Yeovil, including one at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday I remember! What do you remember of it, was there a bit of a grapple (with Atdhe Nuhiu)?
Do you know what? I got on with Gary Johnson but he absolutely hammered me at half-time! To be fair, we got a draw as well that day, but yeah, it was big Nuhiu, and we’d had a bit of argy-bargy, and I didn’t realise that I’d lashed out at him. I was pleading my innocence, and then as soon as you get on the coach and you see it on Sky Sports, I did strike out. We got in a little tussle on the floor, he had me in a headlock and I swung and hit him in the stomach.
Whether it was a defensive partner, or even players in front of you, has there been a best sense of on-field understanding you’ve felt with a teammate in your career?
A few. Played with Shane Duffy at Yeovil, Dan Burn, and we had Ed Upson, fantastic footballer, in front of us. I’d probably say at Millwall, when it was me and Mark Beevers and we had Shaun Williams in front of us. Shaun Williams is easily the best technical footballer I’ve ever played with; he wanted the ball all the time, which makes our job easy. Saying that, going to Bromley now, I’ve got two fantastic footballers in front of me in Billy Bingham and Frankie Raymond. I’ve said to them that I can’t believe they haven’t progressed as much in the League. It’s the thing I’ve found going from League Two last year to the Conference – it’s no difference at all.
In a ‘typical’ football dressing room environment, with the mix of characters you get, where are you on that scale?!
I like to get involved. I like the pranks, I like a laugh, but when it comes down to training it obviously needs to be serious. Also on a pitch, though, you need to enjoy what you’re doing, there needs to be a smile. There’s so many people nowadays that are giving you grief that you need to enjoy it. I like to be involved in the pranks and the laughter; even though I am getting on now, I still think I’m a little kid at heart.
Who would be some of the standout characters you’ve been around, from the many examples I’m sure you could give?
Yeah, there’s a few. Mark Beevers, Chris Taylor, Lee Gregory, George Saville, Luke Ayling, Joe Edwards, Sam Foley. The list could be endless.
Is there anyone that you wouldn’t wanna room with on an away trip?!
To be fair, Harry McKirdy last year at Carlisle, a great, great lad, full character, I roomed with him and lived with him, and the geezer never sleeps. He can go to sleep at whatever time in the morning, wake up, and he’s still a livewire. Even though I did do it, I couldn’t room with him for four or five years, it’d be the end of me!
Are there any especially memorable battles with opponents you’ve had? Perhaps the ones who were lively with the verbals, or they taught you something new in how they played, who stands out?
I’ve always had a good battle with Matt Smith, whether that was at Fulham, Leeds, QPR. Troy Deeney, I think it’s only two or three times I played against him but he’s so demanding of his teammates. I’m not saying he had bad games, but even if he’s not at his best, he’s still demanding of everyone, and that shows you’re a top player. Also, he didn’t play up against us but he played in the hole for QPR, Ravel Morrison; genius of a footballer.
As a player, personality, whatever it may be, have there ever been any misconceptions about you in your career?
I don’t think so, not that I’ve heard anyway. I’m sure there’s a few things said behind my back, that I’m useless and whatever else, but I’m a northern lad, what you see is what you get. I’m not a bad person. I demand, I want to win, and you either come along or you don’t. Steve Morison, I’m good friends with him, and he’s of the belief that you either come along or you just get pushed to the side. I kind of believe in that really.
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I would like to thank everyone for making my time at Millwall FC such a fantastic one…from the people in the office, to the gaffer & his coaching staff, my team mates & the fans. The messages & support I have received throughout my time at the club & since my departure have meant a lot to both me & my family. Wishing everyone involved with the club nothing but success for the future. 💙🦁 @millwallfcinsta
Have you ever had to sing when you’ve joined a team – surely yes! – and if so, which song(s)?
All the time, yeah. My go-to is ‘American Pie’ by Don McLean. I had to do that for Bromley as well. It’s not nice, but I’ve become used to it, and you just get up and do it. It’d be a lot worse if there was dancing or you had to tell jokes or something like that.
Finally, there’s never been a year in recent memory quite like it for added time for reflection. When you think about it, what do you want from these next however-many-years of playing?
Just to enjoy it and be successful, that is the main thing. My kids are getting older now and they still like to say ‘oh, Daddy’s a footballer’ and they still want to come and watch games. As long as I feel good and I’m playing well, there’s no better feeling than my kids and family being there to watch me. I know they can’t at the minute, but obviously with the way it can be streamed and things like that; Bromley have got a good TV set-up at the minute. For me, it’s just to enjoy it, and to make a contribution. I don’t want to be one of them just going into training, not getting involved and picking up a wage, that isn’t me.
Interview by @chris_brookes