Free Press report has non-league club spitting mad

By Anton Rippon

Read all about it: the Ryman Isthmian has rarely been this exciting
Read all about it: the Ryman Isthmian has rarely been this exciting

Non-League football clubs have a habit of imitating their Premier League and Football League big brothers. It’s only natural. Posh motor coaches to away matches (that is if there is a wealthy local benefactor willing to stump up for the bus hire), the right pre-match diet – everyone likes to imagine that they’re in the big-time now and again.

Now Needham Market FC, of the Ryman Isthmian League, has gone one step further. Where Newcastle United, Southampton, Blackpool, Swindon Town, Port Vale, Rotherham United and Crawley Town – there are probably others but it’s difficult to keep up – have gone before, the Marketmen, as they are known, have banned their local newspaper after the Bury Free Press “lifted the lid” on the reason why young striker Adam Mills, who had been the club’s top scorer earlier in the season, left Needham.

According to the local paper, the player claimed that his manager, Mark Morsley, had sided with a club that had complained that Mills had spit at one of their players. The referee did not report the incident and eventually Morsley backed down after Mills’s father disproved the allegation through video evidence. Video evidence in the Ryman Isthmian League? Well, a company called Football Exclusives had paid to film the match.

By then, however, Mills had already stepped down a division to join Maldon and Tiptree, saying that he would never play for Morsley again.

Over two days the Free Press had contacted Morsley about the allegation that stemmed from a “coming together” between Mills and a Staines Town player on December 8. The manager refused to comment, but the paper later saw an email, purporting to come from Morsley’s account, telling Mills that he would be fined two weeks’ wages – the maximum allowed in his contract – and dropped to the reserve team until the end of January, some eight matches.

The player’s father, Geoff Mills, said he felt it was time to go to the press after Morsley was reported as saying that Adam had departed the club “due to lack of game time”.

After the story was published, Morsley wrote a lengthy article on the ban for Needham Market’s official website.

Free Press sports editor Russell Claydon was firmly in his sights. After claiming that the Mills family had approached the paper in a bid to “slur” him, Morsley said that as well as Adam Mills “the next losers are the Bury Free Press because they will no longer be able to report on our games and how the football club is developing.

“We are a progressive club run by excellent people, we have two academies and we are ambitious. All this points to good stories going forward and I suspect that the supporters in and around Needham will no longer be spending their £1.20 each week on the BFP. That then means the next losers are the local outlets that sell the paper.

“Russell Claydon also does not come out of this well either. Not only will the readers of the story see it for what it is, they will always relate this to him. He clearly feels that his newspaper needs a bit of ‘shock and awe’ but I am not sure that printing the personal agenda of one individual is that.”

The ban was reported on the back page of last Friday’s Free Press, whose editor, Paul Richardson, said: “It is disappointing, as the Bury Free Press has covered the highs and lows of Needham Market FC for many years and, as one of the sponsors, remain committed to the best coverage we can provide. I hope the club reconsiders their position when they have put everything into perspective.”

In the meantime it seems that this business of football clubs banning newspapers knows no boundaries.

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