Just when you thought that football club bans on local newspapers couldn’t get any dafter… ANTON RIPPON reports
Swindon Town is the latest football club to ban its local newspaper – this time in a row over a Tweet.
On Saturday, the Swindon Advertiser’s chief sports writer, Sam Morshead, Tweeted the news that the League One club’s striker, Nile Ranger, was in the squad to play Peterborough United at the County Ground. The problem was the timing: Morshead posted his Tweet on his @SamMorshead_SA account at 1.30pm, 45 minutes before the team sheets were handed to match officials and the opposition.
Peterborough’s manager, Darren Ferguson, apparently told his opposite number, Town’s Mark Cooper, that having seen the Tweet, he altered his team selection.
On the face of it, Morshead’s action was of no advantage to the visitors. Ranger scored the first goal of the game and was in fine form as his side went on to win 2-1.
But that has not stopped the Swindon chairman, Lee Power, from banning the Advertiser from attending press conferences and reporting on matches from the County Ground press box in future, despite the fact that the cat was already out of the bag before Morshead Tweeted this apparently vital information. The reporter was only repeating information already posted by fan, Daniel Hunt, who, during a pre-match tour of the ground, had photographed Ranger’s shirt hanging in the Swindon dressing room at 12.30pm.
To make the situation appear even more ludicrous, it later emerged that at 1.32pm – half an hour before the team sheets were handed in – Ranger himself had told his 13,198 followers on Instagram that he was back in the team.
In fact, Morshead had been told on Thursday by a source not connected to the senior management that Ranger was likely to feature in the game, but following conversations with a club official, the sportswriter chose not to report on it so as not to give Peterborough an advantage.
He said: “I went along with the club’s request for the good of the team. It was only when I saw the Tweet from the fan who stated he had seen Ranger’s shirt hanging in the dressing room during a stadium tour that I Tweeted what was already being spread around.
“Once it was in the public domain I felt I had the right to report on it. It is what any reporter would do.”
The Advertiser’s editor, Gary Lawrence, spent 20 minutes on the phone with Power trying to get him to change his mind for the good of the fans who rely on his newspaper’s coverage.
He said: “I asked him to reconsider and explained the reasoning behind Sam’s Tweet but he didn’t accept that, even when I pointed out that the player himself had spread the news on social media.
“Lee said he felt the club had felt let down but I think to ban the whole paper is an overreaction.
“I can understand that the club did not want to give Peterborough any advantage and I felt that we abided by that. It was only when the news became public that we Tweeted it and added it to our matchday live blog. That was just 45 minutes before team sheets were handed in. We can see how well Posh managed to take advantage of the news by the fact that Ranger scored after 28 minutes.
“I can respect that Lee wants to do the best for his club and the fans but I don’t think banning the Advertiser is going to achieve that. He has steadied the club and given it a new direction since he took over but I think this is more controversy the club can do without.
“I can assure fans that Sam will still be at games, even if he has to pay to sit in the stands at the County Ground, and we will move heaven and earth to continue to provide the very best coverage of Swindon Town, both in the paper and online.”
In a separate opinion piece, Lawrence told readers: “The Swindon Advertiser prides itself on standing up for its town and its football club.
“We make sure fans know as much as possible about what goes on there because they, like us, care. We have done this for all of the club’s history because we – like the fans and unlike owners who come and go – are here for the long term.
“We’ve supported the club through relegation, promotion, cup glory and Wembley heartache. We travel the long miles to away games and burn the midnight oil to ensure the reports and interviews are there for the fans to read and enjoy.
“We put our money where our mouth is too. Every year for decades we have backed the club with thousands of pounds of sponsorship – there can be few firms who have been putting their hands in their pockets for as long.
“But now we may be the only commercial partner in the club’s history to be banned from the County Ground.
“We have been barred because the club didn’t like Sam Morshead Tweeting about Nile Ranger playing on Saturday, even though a fan and even the player himself also let the cat out of the bag. We think the fans need to know what is going on at the County Ground and we believe we have the right to assign anyone we choose to do the reporting.
“That’s why we tried our utmost yesterday to avoid this situation and that’s why we will continue to report on the club, however hard it is made for us. That’s what us fans do.”
- Entry forms for the full range of professional categories at the SJA British Sports Journalism Awards – including regional sportswriter of the year, photography and cartoonists – can be downloaded here
- SJA members: vote now in the 2013 British Sports Broadcasting Awards
- The SJA is the largest member organisation of sports media professionals in the world. Join us: Click here for more details
UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Mon Mar 24: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, Grand Connaught Rooms, London
Mon Apr 14: SJA Spring Golf Day: Croham Hurst GC, Surrey. Booking details to be announced