Salad days return to Gillingham FC (but not in the way you might think)

David Lister
Thursday 12 December 1996 00:02

In a gift to stand-up comedians everywhere, Gillingham football club has declared celery an offensive weapon.

Soccer fans in the Kent town have been turning up to matches with celery hidden in their trousers. The assumption that this would not be noticed by police demonstrates an egoism not often found in the league second division. Equally, the decision by club stewards to frisk fans for celery indicates a commendable devotion to duty.

Curiously, the fans have been using the celery not to attack opposing fans or even opposing players, but their own goalkeeper. Jim Stannard, at 16st 6lb one of football's chunkier athletes, has been bombarded by his own supporters at every home game. This is preceded by a chant known as the Celery Song, with a chorus of the one word CELERY sung to the well-known soccer chorus WEMBERLEY. The verse is better not described at all.

Gillingham Town's directors have now decided that a fortnightly bombardment of their own goalkeeper is not in the best interests of the club. This view appeared to have some logic when the Gillingham players with a chorus of CELERY ringing in their ears lost at home to Cardiff this week in the first round of the Auto Windscreen Shield trophy. Only 1,193 fans were present, but local greengrocers still did a roaring trade.

The club's programme editor, Matt Davison, said with pride yesterday: "Our keeper is the heaviest player in the league. A lot of celery was thrown and inevitably some of it went in his direction. But it's been something to identify the club with. We're the only club to have a connection with a vegetable."

Gillingham is the first club to ban celery, but the link between the vegetable and football started at the more upmarket Chelsea in the Eighties. After club vice-chairman, Matthew Harding, was killed in a helicopter crash last October, a bunch of celery was placed among the floral tributes at the ground.

Sticking points: Five facts about celery

1. A diet of nothing but celery would be fatal. It takes more energy to eat it than it gives you.

2.The Romans ate celery to deepen the voice for public speaking.

3. Model Marie Helvin gave up cigarettes by munching celery.

4. Celery was introduced to Britain from Italy in the 17th century. In Italy today, the opera singer Luciano Pavarotti insists on one celery stick in his favourite pasta.

5. Gardener Bernard Lavery achieved a world record with a 46lb celery head. He claimed to make it grow by "talking to it nicely."

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