Celery, the most boring yet surprisingly versatile vegetable of all time, the James Milner of veg, has had a rather unusual association with Chelsea Football Club over the years. The green vegetable, favoured in salads and as a base to stocks, sauces and stews (OK, cooking lesson over!) was regularly hurled onto Stamford Bridge’s hallowed turf for decades, with this strange trend emerging in the 1980s, and eventually became such a problem that celery was actually banned from the ground in 2007! We’ll get on to that in due course.
In this article, we will analyse the possible origins of Chelsea’s obsession with celery, as well as taking a look at the song that Blues fans sing about their favourite vegetable (it unfortunately isn’t a reminder to eat your five a day).
Where Did the Trend of Throwing Celery Come From?
Well, this is a rather contested topic, as there are a couple of possible origin stories for this bizarre practice of throwing celery at football matches, and we will round these up below.
Gillingham as the Inventors of Celery-Throwing?
It is an ongoing debate over which football team’s fans were the first to use celery as a missile, and with there being no definitive answer out there, we will just have to take a look at the stories, and let you make your own mind up.
What we know for sure, however, is that this trend began in the 1980s. So, whilst celery-chucking was popularised by Chelsea (and immortalised in their songs), some stories suggest that this wholesome pitch-side activity actually began at lower-league side Gillingham, where the vegetable would supposedly grow on the pitch during the off-season. Seems unlikely to us but then we aren’t qualified horticulturists, and it is said to have sprouted one summer, being present for a pre-season friendly! This pitch celery therefore became a symbol of the club, and somewhere along the line it begun being hurled at opposition players and fans. We don’t understand either!
Whilst the jury’s still out on whether they invented this craze, Gillingham do hold the title of being the first football club to ban celery at their ground (as far as we know!), after the vegetable was branded an “offensive weapon” by the Kent club in 1996.
Jim Stannard Teased by Fans for His Weight
So, why was the veg getting such a bad rep? Well, some Gillingham fans had started a bizarre ritual at home games that was having a very negative impact on the self-esteem of a certain footballer. Surprisingly, this happened to be one of the Kent side’s own players, Jim Stannard, the club goalkeeper, who was constantly ridiculed by his own fans for his weight. The former Fulham keeper, who weighed 16 stone, was being bombarded by a volley of celery at every home game, despite actually being a very good goalkeeper – in the 1995/96 season, the Gillingham stopper only conceded 20 goals, a football league record!
However, the club’s owners were unhappy with this very harsh treatment of their player, and decided it was time to stop the celery fad, banning the vegetable from the Priestfield Stadium. Despite this ban, Gillingham fans were not to be so easily stopped from their mission of bringing celery to the footy, and would often hide the vegetable down their trousers, forcing stewards to frisk fans extensively to prevent celery from being smuggled into the ground! Following this outlawing, the club’s program editor, Matt Davidson, declared, “It’s been something to identify the club with. We’re the only club to have a connection with a vegetable.” Well, let’s see what Chelsea fans have to say about that…
Mickey Greenway & the Celery Song
Many have disputed Gillingham’s outlandish claim of being the originators of the celery-throwing trend, as they believe that it was actually inadvertently started by a Chelsea super-fan named Mickey Greenway, who brought a dirty, celery-themed song to Stamford Bridge that quickly caught on. According to legend, Greenway heard a rather interesting song in the 80s named “Ask Old Brown”, which went:
Ask old Brown for tea and all the family, if he don’t come, we’ll tickle his bum, with a lump of celery.
Greenway then began singing this song on the terraces of Stamford Bridge, where it was quickly adopted by Chelsea’s supporters, becoming one that was regularly sung at the club’s matches, and can still be heard to this day. Over the years, as is customary with football songs and chants, “Ask Old Brown” has changed, becoming more and more dirty, depending on who happens to be singing it. However, this song does always still have a chant of “celery, celery” at the start, ensuring that the club’s association with the dieter’s favourite remains strong.
Why Was Celery Banned at Stamford Bridge?
Similar to what happened at Gillingham in the 1980s and 90s, celery basically became a huge nuisance that the club struggled to contain, and the vegetable was eventually banned in 2007, following several high-profile incidents. For example, during the 2002 FA Cup semi-final between the Blues and local rivals Fulham, a group of Chelsea fans were actually arrested for launching the vegetable on to the pitch.
Whilst they were eventually released without charge, it brought media attention to this unusual fad, as the fans involved declared that they were simply following a club tradition. The final nail in the celery-throwing coffin came in 2007, after a match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge had to be halted due to the vast amount of celery that had been hurled at the Gunners’ players. One particularly prominent moment came when Cesc Fabregas walked out to take a corner and was met with a bombardment of greenery, becoming understandably enraged as a stalk bounced off his head.
As a man famed for his own pizza throwing, one might have assumed he would take this in his stride. None the less, this was a moment that Chelsea felt they had to respond to. The celery, it seemed, had gone too far. We always preferred carrots anyway.
What Did Chelsea Say?
Following the incident in the Arsenal game, Chelsea officially banned celery from Stamford Bridge, releasing a statement on the club website which read:
The throwing of anything at a football match, including celery, is a criminal offence for which you can be arrested and end up with a criminal record. In future, if anyone is found attempting to bring celery into Stamford Bridge they could be refused entry and anyone caught throwing celery will face a ban.
Whilst this is arguably the strangest statement ever written by a football club, and something that sounds more at home in an irreverent, surrealist comedy sketch, it is one that effectively killed the celery-throwing trend at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea fans are not easily stopped though, and celery throwing does still occasionally occur at the west London club’s away matches. Even more bizarrely, Chelsea’s statement actually included a hotline that the club had set up, which was effectively a number that people could call if they saw anyone at the ground in possession of celery! No healthy snacks kids; step away from the salad!
Are Chelsea Still Associated with Celery to This Day?
Whilst the lobbing of celery was a rather perplexing fad for other fans to get their head round, and seemed to do nothing but cause some pretty bizarre disruptions to Chelsea games, there have been some moments that suggest that the green vegetable has become a cherished part of the club’s identity. Firstly, when the Blues’ vice-chairman, Matthew Harding, was tragically killed in a helicopter crash in 1996, a stick of celery was left on his grave by Chelsea fans, showing that it had become a symbol of the club, and what it represents, rather than just a dirty joke.
Not only this, but when the Blues lifted the Premier League title in 2014/15, Sky Sports News reporter, Enda Brady, who was covering the victory parade, was pelted by a volley of celery, highlighting that the vegetable wasn’t going away any time soon. This strange trend clearly has contested origins, and celery is still a rather bland vegetable. In addition, there is no doubt that it is a weird item for a club to be associated with. Even so, it remains an important symbol of Chelsea Football Club. Good old eccentric Britain we say and long may it last!