Every professional sports club in the world has its own written and unwritten rules which are meant to create a suitable environment for both its players and fans. In the English Premier League (EPL), the said rules include bans on specific actions and items that clubs or their governing body, the Football Association (FA) regards as hazardous or a nuisance. They include selfie sticks, banners attached on poles, flares, umbrellas, strollers, beach balls, newspapers, toilet paper, laptops, suitcases, laser equipment, bottle lids, sponsorship material, pets/animals, excessively large inflatable fruit, and vuvuzelas. There is however one item that is expressly forbidden at Chelsea F.C.’s home ground – celery.
Why is celery not allowed at Stamford Bridge? Celery is not allowed at Stamford Bridge because the vegetable came to be associated with a particularly distasteful and vulgar song that fans would often sing at matches. Blues supporters were also notorious for throwing it onto the pitch during matches and aiming it at opposing players which created unsafe and unacceptable playing conditions.
A Blues “Delicacy”
There are several theories that attempt to explain the origin of Chelsea’s strange relationship with celery. One lifelong Blues fan recently revealed that the practice originated in the 1980s when the club frequented the famous Wembley stadium for matches. It is at such meetings that Chelsea fans are believed to have started chanting “Celery!” instead of “Wembley!”.
Another theory suggests that Chelsea fans may have borrowed the tradition of carrying and/or throwing celery from lower-tier English side Gillingham FC. It is rumored that the vegetable naturally grew on Gillingham’s home pitch thus providing their fans with a handy snack and/or projectile.
Regardless of its true origin, celery has become such a common feature with Chelsea fans that it is almost impossible not to hear it mentioned or see it in a fan’s possession. At Chelsea-related parades and functions, one is also highly likely to be hit by a piece of the vegetable as fans are in the habit of tossing it up, especially when singing the celery “ballad”.
While celery is not allowed at Stamford Bridge, there have been numerous cases, even recent ones, of fans carrying them at away matches. Authorities (police) have also asked Chelsea fans to refrain from illicit celery activities after dealing with a number of celery-related incidents both on and off the pitch.
The Origin of the Infamous Celery Song
Yet another section of the top-flight side’s fans credits their fascination with celery to a song that used to be sung by late Chelsea superfan Mickey Greenway. Greenway is considered by many as arguably the most Chelsea fan in the club’s history.
The Englishman was born and raised in Billing Street, which is just a stone’s throw away from Stamford Bridge location in Fulham Road, in 1945. His passion for the club is believed to have been cultivated by his adoptive father who secured a chance for Greenway to be a mascot in their Golden Jubilee season (1954-55).
That campaign was particularly special for Greenway as he not only got to have first-hand experience of his favorite club and players but also got to witness them with their first-ever top-flight trophy (the Football League First Division title). The title win would have made Chelsea the first club to compete in the European Cup competition (now the UEFA Champions League) had the club not opted out due to pressure from the now-defunct top flight.
Mickey carried on with his love for the club and introduced many of Chelsea’s favorite songs including “One Man Went to Mow” and “Zigger Zagger”, which earned him the nickname “Zigger Zagger man” as only he could get his fellow fans to join as he waved his finger to and fro like a conductor’s baton.
Greenway is said to have also fancied singing a song during matches in the 1980s called “Ask Old Brown” that went:
Chelsea Celery Song Lyrics
“Ask old Brown for tea and all the family,
if he don’t come, we’ll tickle his bum with a lump of celery”
Chelsea fans thereafter added their own unique (and filthy) twist to the song further fueling the hype surrounding celery. The song is so popular that some supporters have even made a print of the Celery song available for sale.
The Match That Forced the Ban
In the late 1990s and 2000s, fans began developing the habit of throwing celery onto the pitch at Stamford Bridge during games. Five fans were arrested for the act in a FA Cup semi-final clash against neighbors Fulham in 2002 but only received a slap on the wrist after their defense successfully argued that their actions were merely a common ritual during games.
Fans however took their celery throwing a notch higher and began using it to target opposing players, especially those who happened to be in areas near the stands like corners. This was perhaps most evident in their 2007 Carling Cup Final against North West London derby rivals Arsenal.
The match in question had to be stopped after players were repeatedly hit with celery. One of the more memorable photos from the match highlights former Gunners midfielder Cesc Fàbregas holding a piece of a celery stalk that hit him as he tried to take a corner.
Many found the Chelsea fans’ behavior appalling as they did not occur on their home ground (the match was held at the renowned Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales), which showed an element of premeditation and a blatant disregard for all cautions that had been given up to that point.
Following the match, Chelsea issued a statement on their official website that sought to remind their fans that the throwing of any object at a football match “including celery” was a criminal offense for which one could be arrested, charged, and possibly even end up with a criminal record.
The statement went on to state that anyone who would be caught attempting to bring celery into the stadium would be denied entry and further clarified that anyone who got caught throwing it would be banned from the premises.
In order to show their intention on following through with the warning, the club even set up a hotline number where spectators could report anyone who had celery in their possession. The ban has however done little to discourage the practice outside Stamford Bridge as it has subsequently been spotted on several important occasions including their EPL title victory parade through London in 2015.