ANTON RIPPON reports on another football club bandying around press bans – this time for a story that was published four years ago
News that a weekly newspaper was banned from Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium because of a dispute over a four-year-old story that was carried in a title that no longer exists should have come as no surprise to anyone who knows their football history.
When it comes to imposing bans, the Kent club, currently playing in Skybet League One, has some previous. Back in 1996, they banned celery. Local greengrocers were reported to devastated.
Supporters had been hiding sticks of celery down their trousers before bombarding the Gills’ 16st 6lb goalkeeper, Jim Stannard, with the vegetable, all preceded by the “Celery Song”, complete with saucy lyrics (and familiar to anyone who has worked in the press box at Stamford Bridge over the years).
At the time, the club’s programme editor, Matt Davison, explained: “Our goalkeeper is the heaviest player in the League. A lot of celery was thrown and, inevitably, some went in his direction.”
In their long history, Gillingham has had few claims to fame but as Davison proudly pointed out: “We’re the only club to have a connection with a vegetable.”
This latest bit of nonsense began when Glenn Garrett, head of sport for Local World South-East, was told that the Kent & Sussex Courier would not be given accreditation to cover a Kent Cup quarter-final tie between Gillingham and Isthmian League club Tonbridge Angels at Priestfield.
The reason was not given, but it was believed to date back to 2011 when the Medway News, a sister title of the Courier, carried an article speculating on Gillingham’s transfer dealings that summer. A few months later the paper’s then owners, Northcliffe Media, the regional newspaper arm of Daily Mail and General Trust, closed the News. In 2012, Local World bought Northcliffe.
So by 2015, you would have thought that Gillingham might have got over its spat with a newspaper that no longer exists. Someone at Priestfield obviously has a very long memory.
In the wake of the new ban – it is a new ban, isn’t it? Or is it still the old one? – the Tunbridge Wells-based Courier’s website carried an article explaining why they would not be able to cover the visit of Tonbridge Angels. The piece was accompanied by a photograph of the ground, captioned: “Apparently Priestfield looks like this.”
Garrett said: “I was surprised when I received an email from the club informing me I would not be given media access to the game … I was aware of a long-standing Medway News ban, but the News no longer exists as a newspaper, and the Courier Media Group has not, in my 10 years at the paper, been to a game at Priestfield.”
All’s well that ends well. Perhaps thinking back to the publicity caused its objection to celery, Gillingham quickly reversed its ban on the Courier. “I’m delighted that common sense has prevailed,” Garrett said. “I in no way wanted to cause any problems for Gillingham Football Club, I merely wanted to do my job, which I now can.”
Footnote: In 2013, the Government warned Chelsea fans not to take celery to their club’s Europa League match against Sparta Prague at the Generali Arena. The club had previously issued edicts to fans warning them of a “criminal offence” of throwing anything, including the salad vegetable.
In 2007, the FA, no less, launched an investigation into celery tossing after the League Cup Final between Chelsea and Arsenal was interrupted by the practice. It is thought to be the first recorded instance of “Vegetables stopped play”.
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