The unusual story of how AFC Bournemouth banned the Bournemouth Echo who responded tit-for-tat
By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
Cherries: Bradbury labels players ‘immature’ – Bournemouth Echo, March 12
The Bournemouth Echo is surely the only newspaper to be banned by a club for accurately reporting what the manager said.
It is a very English habit for football writers and media organisations to be given the red card for writing something critical, clubs not believing newspapers should be impartial but should in fact be cheerleaders. Incredibly, clubs frequently ban papers for printing the truth which is exactly what the Echo did, reporting a quote from Lee Bradbury, the AFC Bournemouth manager.
The Cherries’ response? To tell the Echo: you’re banned. The Echo’s response? No, YOU’RE banned.
Supporters often ask journalists to explain how you can be banned for writing what a club official has said but we cannot. It is, sadly, the way some clubs think they should behave.
Local papers have a more sensitive line to tread than the nationals but their coverage tends to reflect what supporters are saying and after a string of defeats it is difficult to report that everything is fine and the team have no problems.
After AFC Bournemouth’s 3-0 defeat by Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, Bradbury was unhappy with the side’s performance and called the team “immature.” Not unsurprisingly the quote was used in the intro of Ian Wadley’s match report on March 12.
After a sixth defeat in eight games, Bradbury was sacked on March 25. But five days previously the Echo, already not permitted to attend Bradbury’s press conferences, were banned by the club who were told just four hours before the kick-off against Brentford that the paper’s reporters and photographers were no longer welcome at Seward Stadium.
Echo sports editor Neil Meldrum told footballwriters.co.uk: “The headline was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back. We can be quite opinionated in some of the things we do. That was probably the main reason why they fell out with us. They perceived a lot of our coverage as negative but after five or six straight defeats, especially when the club spent £1.5 million on new players in January, it’s hard to pull many positives out of that. If you do that and expect zero criticism you are on another planet.
“If the fans were happy-go-lucky after such a run of results we may have taken a similar line but the supporters were up in arms about the defeats after the money that had been spent. “
The Echo’s response to the ban was to ban Bournemouth from the paper. Since March 20 there has not be a single mention of the Cherries in the Echo – not even their results. In effect AFC Bournemouth do not exist in the Bournemouth Echo.
The paper’s relationship with Bradbury had become strained. According to the Echo he had “taken it upon himself to make life increasingly difficult for our reporters.” Bradbury even phoned a reporter to complain about the “immature” headline even though he used the word in a press conference.
Meldrum suspects a combination of Bradbury and a club executive and not Eddie Mitchell who, since becoming chairman in 2009, had had a few runs-ins with the paper, is behind the ban.
The Echo called Mitchell “a man who approaches his own customers aggressively on the pitch, interferes in the home dressing room and swears on national radio…he felt our coverage of his much-publicised misdemeanours had been unfair and negative”. Mitchell has, the Echo said, tried to tell them which headlines to write and which stories to cover. However, he was told “in no uncertain terms” that he did not edit the newspaper and no chairman of any football club has the right to dictate to a newspaper.
AFC Bournemouth have been the subject of more than 700 back page lead stories in the Echo since Mitchell took over, the equivalent of £840,000 in the paper’s advertising rates.
The decision of editor Toby Granville to fight a ban with a ban has been welcomed by members of the FWA who have made their backing known on Twitter. While supporters rightly do not care if reporters have to occasionally put up with poor press facilities and become experts on what it is like to stand in a car park in the pouring rain waiting for a player to hopefully speak, it is a huge decision for a local paper to pull the plug on their club. Some might argue there is a duty to report the club even if press facilities are withdrawn.
Of the role reversal Meldrum said: “There is now zero coverage of Bournemouth in the paper. We realise to some extent we are letting readers down but I am sure they would rather us be an independent voice than some kind of PR vehicle for the club. Initially a few held us to account but generally supporters have said they believe the club made the wrong decision.”
Meldrum now has to plan his sports pages without coverage of the Cherries but it is not as difficult as may first appear. He said: “Obviously AFC Bournemouth not being in the paper is a big hole to fill. They were our bread and butter. But we have the biggest speedway club in the country who attract crowds not dissimilar to Bournemouth. We have a lot of local people involved in the Olympics, we have a vibrant non-league scene plus cricket so there’s lots going on.”
The hope is that there is an outbreak of common sense but that must come from the football club.
Meldrum said: “The club have said they are keen to find a resolution but we haven’t heard from them. The last time we heard from them was when we were banned.” The Echo will not contact the club – “they banned us so if they want to lift it we would welcome that but it’s up to them. If someone has issued you with a ban you consider unreasonable it’s not up to us to go crawling to them, begging to get back in. If they want to open talks we’d be delighted.”