Mark 'Spider' Webb is one of the premier kickers this
country has produced. Starting with the Birmingham Bulls in 1986, he
kicked his way to 3 national championships (1986, 1988 and 1991) and
also to a place on the 1991 European Championship winning GB Lions
squad. BritballNow recently interviewed him and here is the interview:
How did you come to play for the Birmingham Bulls in 1986?
I had played
soccer to a fairly decent level for a few years but had become
disillusioned and bored with it. I saw a newspaper advert in one of the
Richard Meanwell (GB Lions kicker in 1986 and 1987) presumably was your club rival for the kicking position at the start of your career at the Bulls? How did you compare to him, and who was the starter?
Meanwell was a very talented player but I don’t believe his
heart was ever really in Gridiron, if it had of been, he could have
played in the NFL (I think Richard played for Moseley Rugby Club at the
time as well). He
was a few years younger then me but to his credit, he showed me the
ropes, we practiced together and the rotation system which we used
worked well for both of us. Richard was the starter in 86 and if there
was a long field goal to have a go at. He didn’t like taking
the extra point kicks but it gave me good game time as we scored many
touchdowns in the 1986 season on the way to the SummerBowl win against
throughout 1988 when the Bulls convincingly won the British title with
a dominant season, including an amazing 51-13 semi-final win over the
We had a disappointing season in 1987, we lost to the Luton Flyers in the QF I think. For some reason I seem to remember it was mid-week game and I didn’t go due to work commitments as did a few of the others guys. (But I maybe wrong on this point, it was 20 years ago!) I was in two minds of whether to carry on playing in 1988 but I received a phone call from Denton Thomas saying that they had managed to get 4 American players who would also coach and things were looking good. So I went to training on a cold, wet Tuesday evening and couldn’t believe the difference from the previous season. There was Russ Jensen, LA Raiders QB in charge of the drills. The Bulls were in dream world. Also, not forgetting Greg Harris, James Thornton and Steve James were the other players/coaches. These guys were probably the best quartet every to play in Britball for one team.
Training was never the same again. If you didn’t train, you didn’t play. Simple as that. Jensen was a very hard task master; he took no prisoners and probably upset everyone at the club at some time or another. He was a big guy, 6’3” and about 16 stone but was also quick as he played Tight-End for the Raiders as well as QB. He wanted to win every game and was prepared to do whatever it took. It terms of the games that season, we only lost one, which was the first game against the Ravens at their place. We should have won but we didn’t fair play to the Ravens, it showed what a good team they were. I don’t know what was more disappointing though, losing to the Ravens or the Olympians being the first British team to beat them a few weeks later and not the Bulls. I remember Jensen not being happy about that at all. Anyway, we went through the rest of the season unbeaten and I think Richard Meanwell had packed it in by then so I was kicking everything now for the Bulls.
The big match
up came again in the semi-final against the Ravens down at their place
again. The game plan was simple. Stop Victor and you stopped the
Ravens, that was the theory. The Bulls Defense were outstanding all day
(may have been a couple of fumbles in there as well from the great
man), the Offense were clinical in their execution of plays and we put
50 points on a team who normally didn’t concede that many in
a season. Outstanding team performance. At the final whistle, Concorde
flew over the pitch, a fitting moment indeed for the end of an era. The
final was at
In 1989, the
Bulls were on course for another title, but on the eve of the final
My recollection was that we arrived at the Crystal Palace Stadium in readiness to play the Manchester Spartans in the final and found out that Russ Jensen wasn’t there to play. I heard that there had been a row over money and that he had walked out. Even up to the kickoff, I hoped he would turn up to play but it was not to be. It just shows how crucial your QB is as we had hammered the Spartans in the regular season and we would have hammered them again in the Final with Jensen at QB. I would like to think that if Russ Jensen looked back on his actions on that day, when he is old and grey like me, he would say that he was wrong and it was probably the worst play he ever made and he is sorry that he let his team mates and supporters down so badly on that day. But don’t hold your breath.
There must have been a real buzz as a kicker to walk out onto the pitch in front of thousands of fans? What’s the biggest crowd you played in front out? What were the Bulls attendances in those early years of the sport?
I was very
fortunate to play for a very good Bulls set up at the height of
Britball in the
You missed out on the GB Lions squad for the 1989 European Championships, when the Spartans Neil Pearson was selected. Did you attend trials, were you surprised to have not been called up?
I did attend the trials in 1989, Terry Smith was the head coach and I believed I had a good chance of being selected for the GB squad. The trials went well, we did kick-offs, field goals where I was kicking further than the other guys in the dreadful conditions. We then went over to another area at Alexander Stadium where Terry Smith asked us to punt into corners, looking back perhaps I didn’t take this exercise as seriously as I should have as it was very artificial as you were kicking the ball without it being snapped and no-one trying to block the kick. I think originally Toby Hester and Andrew Flippance were selected to the squad. Coach Steve Moon was there but you will have to ask Terry Smith why I didn’t get selected. I wasn’t surprised as I never really knew Terry Smith that well and I didn’t go out of my way to get to know him either. But I was very disappointed at the time. Neil played for the Spartans of which Terry Smith was Head Coach so he knew what Neil could do for the team. The guys went over there and kicked ass so fair play to Neil and the rest of the GB team.
Who in your
opinion did you consider your biggest rival for top
fraternity was generally a mild mannered bunch and I never really had
any rivalries as such. The only one I probably would say ended up being
a rivalry was with Kevin Hurst of the Leicester Panthers. We always had
tough matches with
GM Leigh Ensor says that you should have been selected for the
Operation Discovery project for the
That was very kind and generous of Leigh to say that. The main reason I didn’t was that I never went to the trials. The proposed salary the World League was going to pay a kicker was a big drop to what I was earning at the time. I simply could not afford to play in the World League. I know it sounds stupid now but that was the reality. In hindsight, I should have gone but I was thirty years old at the time and I had commitments, if I was twenty, no contest.
In 1991, you became the first and so far only kicker to win the national championship with a last minute field goal. Tell us about that play, how you felt in the run up to it and the elation afterwards?
quarters we were walking it, something like 36 to 14 with the Olympians
struggling to move the ball against a rampant Bulls defense. Then, for
no apparent reason, the Olympians started to move the ball at will,
several times, and the touchdowns were flowing to the point where we
were losing 38 to 36 with 1 minute left of the 4th quarter. During that
period of the Olympians scoring the TD’s, the Bulls
couldn’t move the ball as the O’s defense came into
their own. We hadn’t used Maverick Logan our veteran Tight
End all day. Dave Kramme our 2nd year QB opened the drive up with 3
passes on the trot to Maverick and we made about 50 yards up field. At
this time I nearly pulled my shirt out of my pants and resigned myself
to another loser’s medal. On the 3rd completed pass to
Maverick, I thought, we are getting in field goal range here, oh s***.
If we could only move it into the 30 yard area, I would have a chance
of making it. We carried on passing and we had a very dubious pass
interference call against Mickey Price in the end-zone, tough call on
their D really but Mickey was very elusive with deceptive speed. So,
the team lined up to run the ball in. In the meantime, I was pacing up
and down the touchline and nobody said a word to me, they knew to keep
away while I prepared to get ready. Head Coach Sam Timer walked towards
me, he looked at me and just winked, he knew that I knew what was
expected and what was coming. We called a timeout and the Coaches
called on the field goal team. I had already slotted 2 over earlier in
the game but this was different. There were 17 seconds left. Nowhere to
hide. This was it, make or break. We were on the 1 yard line on the
right hand hash line which gave a pretty tight angle to the posts. I
had to adjust my position of line-up. We lined up, the Olympians
defense were all over our O line and snapper Warren Billingham.
I’m led to believe they were shouting all sorts of things at
me but I honestly can’t remember or I didn’t hear
them. I was in the zone. Set, just about to go and Patrick Hunter our
covering left end went before the ball was snapped. That was
Patrick’s best play of the Final. Thank you Patrick, you
saved my life as it moved us back 5 yards and the angle was far better
for me to kick. I still owe you a beer for that. Gary
“Billy” Mills the O Line captain got everybody back
in the huddle, calmed everything down, no need to panic, everyone
concentrate on their job in hand. Back to the line, Set,
But, having watched the game on video since many times, we could have lost even after the field goal. We were given a 25 yard penalty on the kick-off for my celebration. I then managed to produce the worst kickoff ever. They had 2 plays left. The first one was a Hail Mary which Mark Williams and Des Taylor snuffed out. The last play of the day had the Olympians QB running round our defense for about 2 minutes, well it felt like that at the time, and sending another Hail Mary straight to Leroy Innes. Inexplicably, Leroy dropped it on the 1 yard line. Leroy, sorry mate, I also owe you a beer for that one.
You were selected as the kicker for the 1991 GB Lions squad who defended the title they had won in 1989. Tell us about your time for the Lions on that fantastic week of football in Finland – who you roomed with, some of the jokers of the squad, the game plans etc.
When we had
the final trials for the GB squad, we were told that we would receive
letters confirming our selection to the squad and you would get them on
a specified date. The date came and I had no letter. I was gutted. I
had heard that the other guys new they had been selected for the squad
and I duly arrived at Bulls training camp for the Final against the
Olympians. Coach Steve Moon came over to me with a big beaming smile
and said that I was in. Brilliant. In all there must have been about 14
Bulls players in the squad and about the same from the Olympians. Next
day, I got the letter. Result. I later heard that it was either me or
The week after the Bulls v Olympians Final the GB squad met up on a Friday Night down at Bushy, the Monarchs training camp. Head Coach Ray Willsey, Coach Dennis Danielson, both of the London Monarchs, Coach Steve Moon and the other assistant coaches were delivering a briefing to the assembled team in one of the lecture rooms when Gary “Billy” Mills and I walk in. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. I’m sure the Olympians guys were well chuffed at seeing me again! The next 3 days went pretty quickly. We were training 3 times a day, eating 3 times a day and probably sleeping 3 times a day. We were in rooms which had mattresses on the floor, 4 to a room. I was in with Billy Mills as normal and a couple of the other Bulls. The tension was still high after the final and one incident I will never forget was when Phil Williams and Bob Dean of the Olympians walked down the corridor past Bill Mills who promptly raised both arms to indicate a successful field goal, that was cruel but very, very funny. Over the 3 days, the guys were jostling for starting positions, especially the QB’s/ RB’s and WR’s. There was so much talent on that squad you would not believe. That has been vindicated by the number of guys selected to the All-time British All-stars Squad. One unfortunate incident was the loss of Gerry Anderson from the squad due to the injury he received in the final trying to score a two point conversion.
Phil Alexander came down for one of the days and we had a good chat as well as kicking a few balls. That’s when I found out how good he was and that he couldn’t punt! Anyway, we were given only 1 night out, the last night, we went to the local hostelry which displayed a load of Monarchs memorabilia, so we were given a warm welcome once they found out who we were. Mention must go here to Don Edmonson who showed us how to down a large can of lager in about 1 second by putting a hole in the bottom then releasing the ring pull. Barry Driver had a go and did he pay for it the next day. I’ve never seen him sweat so much in all my life. He’s Big, He’s Bad, and He’s Bazza.
We arrived at
the hotel, checked in and got a room with Billy Mills, my normal
room-mate on away trips. He’s not a pretty sight in the
morning but beggars can’t be chooser’s.
I’m an honoury member of the OL fraternity so I go round with
them, nothing to do with the fact I like a beer. Anyway, they spend
most of their time protecting me on the field so a little socializing
with them is the least I can do. We started to bump into the other
teams in the eating places as the organizers had arranged for us to eat
lunch and dinner in the same place. The other teams looked very nice in
their tracksuits and bomber jackets with their countries names on them.
I’ve still got my tee-shirt. Thanks Frank. In terms of the
eating competition, Warren Sweetman was the winner by a country mile. I
have never seen anyone of his size eat so much in all my life. Five
plates of grub at lunchtime, unbelievable. (Mind you, not many
attempted the pickled herrings for breakfast, not even
To be fair, the Finns put on a great show and very well organized tournament. The hotel we stayed in was very comfortable but the biggest shock was the price of beer out there, £3.50 for a half. (When was the last time you saw the OL drinking halves?). We had a fair journey on a bus to our training ground. In the end, I seem to remember that we went somewhere else as the fields we were allocated were poor and not suitable for 45 big blokes running around. We had 2 days of training and drills before our first game, the semi-final against the Dutch. At the first team meeting in Finland, 2 of the squad (who shall remain nameless) were 2 minutes late for the start of the meeting which Head Coach Ray Willsey had called in the hotel. He very calmly stated that he had 2 return tickets in his back pocket for the next 2 players who are late for a meeting. If he said 7.00 he meant 7.00, not 7.02. As you can imagine, no-one was late for a meeting for the rest of the tour. Surprise that.
The day before our first game we went and watched the other semi-final between Finland and the French. No contest. The Finns won easily in a very large Olympic Stadium in Helsinki. They looked impressive, very well drilled, disciplined but seemed a bit mechanical, no flair. Next day, bring on the Dutch. 49 to 3 was the final score. The GB running game was awesome and we executed nearly every play sent in by the coaching staff. I hit 7 out of 7 X-points so I was happy with my game. I seem to remember we went out for a couple of beers.
2 days to the Final and the squad were now a bit more relaxed in terms of their individual position and what was expected of them. The squad had some great characters, Bob Dean walking round the hotel with a battered old briefcase was a sight for sore eyes. Priceless. A really nice guy was Bob off the field. On it, you wouldn’t recognize him. Dave Samuels was the same, very quite and unassuming off the field, on it, a monster not to be messed with. All the OL and DL guys were the same, off the field very quite, but on it, they were well drilled, controlled aggression but executed the plays passed in to the trenches. Colin Nash was a leader on and off the field, when he said something everyone listened. Colin was a great ambassador for the sport.
The day of the Final. The Finns had refused to cut the grass, it was about 3 inches long and wet. So it was difficult for our guys to use their agility and speed to the full. The Finns had selected all of their World League players, they had 2 guys on the OL who must have been 6’10”, they, were, huge. There were 2 great defenses on show that day, neither gave an inch. We scored on a bad snap for a punt which sailed over their punters head, Mark Williams recovered the ball. Several plays later Jason Elliot scored on a fake play even though one of our guys clipped the defensive back who tried to tackle Jason. We got away with that one. All the coaches had headphones on and some of the assistant coaches were in the stadium sending down plays and defensive/offensive formations to the coaches on the field. Just like the NFL, it was great. As I said earlier, the Finns were a bit mechanical in their play but our defense was truly outstanding in its tackling and coverage of their offense. But pride of place must go to the Special Teams, I would say that wouldn’t I, we dealt with everything they threw at us, we kept plugging them back deep into their own half on punts and their offence never really looked liked scoring a TD all day. So a BIG-UP for all the guys on Special Teams. Outstanding. The Finns scored a consolation field goal to make it 7 – 3 but we weren’t finished just yet. On a trick play where Richard Dunkley powers his way past their D Line and fumbles the ball in the end zone and roles it to Pat Miller our WR to fall on it for a TD. It worked every time in practice. Nice one guys. XP for me as well. So 9 out of 9 XP, happy with that. Game Over and we are the Champions. Team Captains and MVP’s go to the Press Conference afterwards. After we explain how we beat the Finns much to the disgust of the assembled scribes, we re-join our teammates in the dressing room.
But one of the most defining moments of the whole trip was the singing of the National Anthem on foreign soil. It was a truly emotional moment for the whole team. Bar none, all the guys sang their heads off, that’s what team spirit is all about. It’s a shame that some of the other national teams who we have witnessed in other sports over the years don’t have that same belief we had that day in Helsinki. Unbelievable. I was fortunate to have been voted the Offensive MVP of the final, Jason Elliot won the Games most Sparkling player and rightly so. He had a great game. Jason duly shared his bottle of champagne with the OL, nice one.
I also had the most frightening moment of my life after the final whistle when I came back from the press conference and back into the GB dressing room. Phil Williams (OL from the Olympians) ran towards me and proceeded to give me a big kiss and a bear hug, Phil was tee-total but had for some reason had a drink and he can’t handle it. Nice one Phil, I still have nightmares about that.
left for the 24 hour cruise around the waters of
One of the
prizes for the Winning Team of the Championships was to stay in the
best hotel in
When and why did you retire from the sport?
During the GB
Andy Raffo succeeded you in 1993 as the Bulls kicker. Was he already in the set-up when you were there? How did he compare to yourself?
Andy came to
the Bulls when I had left. I think he played for Sutton Coldfield
Royals which was a local team to the Bulls. So it was ideal for him to
move. Andy was a good lad and had the right attitude but he had the
difficulty of being compared to the previous incumbents of the kicking
mantel at the Bulls. Very difficult for Andy when they had both been
the GB kickers as well. It would not be fair of me to compare Andy to
myself, you should ask the other players and coaches who played for the
Bulls at the same time. Unfortunately, Andy had the opposite experience
to me at the 1994 final against the Olympians when he missed a game
winning field goal with seconds left. I must say, his was much further
out then mine and
What NFL and NCAA teams do you support?
NY Giants and my favourite player was Lawrence Taylor, don’t really follow College football.
Who is the best coach/kicking coach you’ve played for and why?
I’ve never really been coached to kick as such but Coach Sam Timer encouraged me to practice more the areas of my game which we didn’t utilize that much like the on-side kick. He always said that you never know when you may need it. At the end of that season I had managed to perfect the high bounce on the forth bounce of the ball about five yards in from the sideline. But it took loads of practice. We never used it but it was there if necessary.
The GB Coaches were great. Head Coach Ray Willsey was like a General. All he needed was the big fat cigar. The GB squad were his troops. Coach Steve Moon was an excellent OL coach and a great motivator for the big guys, new his stuff, had great respect from the team and was a genuinely nice guy. Jensen was a winner, arrogant but he had the ability to back this up and he didn’t care who he upset to win. I’d also like to thank Coach Warren Tate who gave me my chance at Gridiron in 86.
What do you consider to be your best season?
1991. Bulls Britbowl winners. GB Euro Nation winners, selected to the
European All-stars Team, Offensive MVP European Nations final.
What was the best game you have ever played in?
No contest Britbowl 1991. That game had everything for me personally, the Bulls team and the Best of what Britball was all about. I think I had 3 field goals, 3 or 4 extra points, 2 punts recovered and I threw a 2 point conversion pass to Jeff Christmann. Which in hindsight, was probably just as important as the field goal with 17 seconds left? But GB v Finland comes a close second. That game was probably the most technical game I have ever played in. Just like the NFL.
What’s your longest field goal?
In a game I think it was 52 yards but the Bulls did not go for many long field goals. The Coaches we had would prefer to go for field position and pin the opposition back on their own goal-line.
In practice with a trailing wind 59 yards, but I missed the first 8 of them!
Are you in still in Britball in any capacity?
Interesting question and very well timed on your part. I’ve recently met back up again with some of the Bulls Coaching team and Management. Depending on work and family commitments I may put some coaching time in this season. I was very disappointed in the fact that the current Bulls roster did not have a player with a “K” against his position. I made the mistake of saying this and they said well what are you going to do about it? I would love to put the old boots back on again but unfortunately I broke my fibula, tibia and dislocated my ankle in 1994 playing a friendly game of soccer and was advised not to play any contact sport as I still have the 2 plates and 16 pins in my leg. But, there can’t be that much contact can there for a Kicker? Watch this space.
What was the most satisfying win in your career?
The 3 Bowl victories in 86, 88 and especially 91 were great experiences. But you cannot beat representing your country at your chosen sport. So, the win over the Netherlands 49-3, my first GB cap was fantastic. (I have a question here. How come the Dutch National side are rubbish but their club teams like the Amsterdam Crusaders are very good? I think the answer is the fact that all of the Crusaders players (when the Bulls played them in 89 and 92) all spoke with an American accent, strange that.)
But pride of
place must go to the Final against
My I take this opportunity to say that it was an Honour and a Privilege to play ball with the GB Team of 91, the Bulls team from 1986 to 1992 and all the teams and players I played against at that time. Respect.
Big Love, Spider.
Did you ever have to make a tackle on a kickoff?
A tackle is probably being generous to me but a few times I’ve had players run into me and I’ve managed to get in the way, luckily there were several other Bulls players on Special Teams to help me out. I can’t remember many instances where teams have run the ball back against the Bulls but I do recall AJ Okiwe of Nottingham Hoods doing it in 1991. I think it was punt, I lost concentration and I looked up and AJ was through our defense and hurtling towards me, I ran towards him and he carried on running straight at me, at the last second he looked like he was going to my left but he went to my right and I ended up on my backside looking like a right burke. Cheers AJ.
Were you ever involved in fake/trick plays? If so tell us about your favourite.
I have run in a few 2 point conversions after the QB has run to the 1 yard line then passed it to me to run it in but the best play was in the 1991 Final against the Olympians. In practice, if the snap from Warren Billingham is wayward or is too high to put down for a kick, then we shouted fire and the 2 outside guys should run to their respective corners of the end-zone. In the final, we set-up for the X-Point. Warren snaps the ball and Dave Kramme couldn’t hold it and the ball goes over and behind Dave and to my right. I ran and picked up the ball only to look up a see 1 guy in my face so I squirm passed him only to be faced with about 3 guys charging at me. Out of the corner of my eye I see a Black shirt (Obviously later found out it was Jeff Christmann) going to the corner of the end zone on the right. I release this thunderbolt John Elway of a pass to Jeff and he scores the 2 point conversion. Well, that’s my recollection. First Down described it as the worst spiral of the day and my Wife Jacky says it was a rubbish Netball pass. I still prefer my version.
What do you do nowadays for a living?
a Director of Professional Services for a large American IT supplier of
ERP (Business) Systems to Distribution & Manufacturing
businesses in the