ANTON RIPPON reports on the latest threat against a local newpaper’s coverage of a football club
Whatever happened to free speech?
Over the past few years more than one newspaper has asked that question after finding itself banned by the local football club for publishing something that the team’s owner or manager didn’t like.
Here is another question: when is a ban not a ban? Possibly when it is accompanied by a promise to lift it as soon as the offending articles stop.
At least is what is happening in Coventry, where League One’s bottom club has told the Coventry Evening Telegraph that it is welcome to return to the fold as soon as it stops demanding that the owners sell up.
Coventry City’s owners are Sisu – an organisation that, two years ago, were described in parliament by the Labour MP for Coventry North-East, Bob Ainsworth, as “a hard and ruthless hedge fund operation” which employed “spin and lies” and was “prepared to destroy a children’s charity to make money”.
Last week Coventry’s local paper issued a front-page appeal to Sisu to put the club on the market after what the paper called “nine miserable years of failure” on and off the pitch.
Coventry City soon sprang into action, sending a text message to sportswriters Andy Turner and Alan Poole, informing them that the Telegraph will not be granted access to the club’s management staff or players while it continues to call upon Sisu to put the club up for sale.
A club spokesperson wrote: “The board think it inappropriate that they provide access to any club staff at this point in time.
“It’s not a ‘ban’ – we just can’t offer engagement with the manager/players when the paper’s stance is as it is.”
A petition calling for Sisu to sell up attracted more than 12,000 signatures in less than 48 hours, as well as support from Times football writer Henry Winter and former City players such as Micky Quinn.
The paper, meanwhile, said on its website: “As thousands of people signed our petition since it was launched on Tuesday afternoon, one question was constantly being asked: ‘Will they listen?’ In banning the Telegraph from talking to Tony Mowbray [the club’s manager] and the players we think they have answered that question.
“The ban is unfortunate in some respects and it cuts a line of communication between the manager and the players and the fans. But it will not stop us from doing our job or deter us from doing what is right for Coventry City fans.
“After all, right now what would you rather have from the Telegraph – the manager trying to explain the lack of goals so far this season or a defiant call for the owners to sell up and go?
“The Telegraph will still be at all Sky Blues matches, home and away, bringing supporters all the action, views and analysis on Mowbray’s team as they strive to get themselves off the bottom of the League… Thank you, as ever, for your support.”
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