Coventry City Face Up To Another Year in the Third Tier

Coventry Cathedral
Image available under Creative Commons (c) watty rugby

When, in March 2013, Coventry City left the Ricoh Arena in what, in hindsight, resembled Walter White’s frantic attempts to gather his dirty money and bury it in the desert before Hank could reach it in the final season of Breaking Bad, it seemed almost inconceivable that the club’s absence from its purpose-built stadium could be truly long-term. Such a situation was virtually without precedent, and however bad the relationship between Sisu and ACL was, a solution would surely be brokered – a football stadium with a football club-shaped hole in it clearly benefited no one.

And yet, a year later, there is still little prospect of a resolution, and the same old protagonists remain doggedly in place. Despite, in real terms, having spent most of 13/14 hovering around 6th-8th position in League One (accounting for the 10 point deduction, of course, tells a different – albeit inaccurate – story), the season has followed a familiar course for City fans – beginning positively but ultimately tailing off after Christmas, leaving the final three months of the season as a mere exercise in securing mid-table mediocrity. Chris Coleman and Aidy Boothroyd would be proud.

However, given the circumstances, this is a major achievement. Assuming safety is secured come May, Steven Pressley is a worthy manager of the year contender. Every time I lose faith or grow frustrated with our often farcically inept defence, I remind myself of the situation in which the club found itself in August of last year. With a meagre squad consisting largely of inexperienced academy graduates, relegation looked a certainty; the club’s continuation as a going concern almost seemed like a more pressing priority than any footballing targets. In this context, a mid-table finish would be miraculous.

But what of the future? When Sky Blue Sports and Leisure Ltd (holders of 90.1% of Otium, who own the club) recently published their annual accounts – covering the year up to May 31st 2013 – they painted a gravely worrying picture. For all the conjecture surrounding the tangible consequences of the Ricoh dispute – the Sixfields tenancy – the state of the club beforehand has, to some extent, escaped scrutiny.

As the excellent Two Hundred Percent blog eloquently summarises here, the accounts reflect a club in contraction, struggling to function – even when they were able to rely on the revenue from average league attendances of nearly 11,000, as opposed to this season’s woeful 2,000. The value of the club’s assets was down significantly compared to the previous year, income from player sales had plummeted, and a reliance on loans had increased. Perhaps the most damning verdict was that of independent auditors, who refer to “material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt over the company’s ability to continue as a going concern”.

While the owners have stated that ‘investors’ will cover the losses incurred from playing at Sixfields, it is believed that these funds exist only in the form of loans – the repayment of which could seemingly be demanded at any moment. To the casual observer, it’s very difficult to foresee how this supposed investment is likely be recouped, barring an unlikely return to the Premier League, combined with the amalgamation of the club and a stadium. Moreover, the approach appears to be informed by a high-risk, all-or-nothing strategy. If that gamble does not pay off, it seems inevitable that the club and its supporters will be the ones who will ultimately suffer. It is not melodramatic to argue that the long-term future of the club is still very much in danger.

Rather than endorse any view that the Sixfields tenancy is financially viable, the accounts apparently show that it is utterly unsustainable for one season, let alone the four or five that may be required if a new stadium is to be built. And question marks remain concerning fundamental details of such a stadium. Despite promises from the club in January that a site would be announced within three weeks, three months later we are none the wiser. A fans’ consultation group was set up at the turn of the year, but many feel that this is simply an exercise in giving an illusion of fan advocacy to the authorities.

This inaction may or may not be related to June’s upcoming judicial review into the legality of a £14m loan given to ACL by Coventry City Council which, Sisu argue, was an unlawful use of public funds. It is difficult to predict how this will play out – and consequently, how it will impact on next season – but a suspicion has lingered all along that the club’s owners will procrastinate over resolving the stadium situation until an outcome to the judicial review is reached, in case it eventually facilitates the purchase of the Ricoh Arena freehold. In the meantime, uncertainty reigns.

We can be sure, though, that the current situation is having a devastating impact on the club’s fan base. A loyal core of supporters will fight for the club until its death, but, broadly speaking, stagnancy is breeding both resignation and widespread detachment. While some are relinquishing their support in anger, many fans will drift away simply through fatigue and frustration. In his book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and back again), Andy Warhol says:

“Sometimes people let the same problem make them miserable for years when they could just say, So what. That’s one of my favorite things to say. So what.”

Unfortunately for Coventry’s long-term prospects, Warhol reflects a feeling inherent in many people. Supporting a football team is, contrary to mythology, a choice. If it seems endlessly hopeless and yields nothing but misery, fans will stop caring and cut ties. And, as the continued boycott of Sixfields shows, they already are. While some are staying away through moral determination, the actions of many are no doubt motivated by apathy. Everyone wants to back a winning horse; following Coventry at the moment sometimes feels like betting on one that’s about to be euthanized: hardly an appealing prospect for young fans.

Making the bold assumption, again, that the club will remain in League One next season, it looks to be another challenging year. For the time being, the prospect of starting a season on zero points after consecutive points deductions is enticing, but we should remain cautious: there is every possibility that a conclusion to the judicial review – however long-winded – may result in further sanctions against the club if it goes against it.

Even if such a penalty is unforthcoming, challenges will still remain. With several key players out of contract at the end of the season (including talismanic goalkeeper Joe Murphy, creative enigma Franck Moussa and coveted full back Cyrus Christie), Steven Pressley may have a job on his hands to build a squad of a similar calibre to this season’s. Retaining the division’s current top scorer, Callum Wilson, will be a test in itself, and futile efforts to replace Leon Clarke in January showed how difficult it is for League One teams to recruit players, even when money is available. When financial forecasts are so dismal, though, there is a natural inclination to assume that funds will be minimal, no matter what the club says about investors covering costs.

We must also acknowledge the risk of losing Steven Pressley to another club. The manager has arguably been the differential between further decline and the club keeping its flagging head above water. The destabilising effect of having to find a replacement would set the club back by another year on the pitch, and there’s no guarantee that a new manager would be able to utilise the academy with such success.

A potential third season in League One is indicative of a former Premier League mainstay becoming a fixture in the third tier, and the long-term downscaling of a club that, little more than a decade ago, was set to move into its own 45,000 capacity stadium. Even so, most Coventry fans will probably tolerate lower league football for the time being. Of more immediate concern is the normalisation of crowds of 1,000 home fans and the gradual deconstruction of Coventry’s support. Achieving success next season – whether in League One or League Two – is likely to be a struggle if fans are still being forced away. And, more philosophically, how meaningful is success without fans, anyway?

If this season has demonstrated anything, it’s a gradual acceptance by supporters that they can ultimately do little to influence things. In reality, we are still in a situation whereby the prospect of a fruitful season next year is still entirely dependent on the outcome of the stadium dispute and the actions of a handful of influential individuals. How predictable. How frustrating to stand by and witness such enforced quiescence.

Astonishingly patient 26 year-old London-born Coventry City supporter living in Brighton. Looks disapprovingly at the common hipster, but believes in a world in which football, indie music & classic literature can co-exist peacefully. Biding his time writing inconsequential drivel about ’22 men kicking a ball around’ while waiting for a groundbreaking novel to write itself. Sisu not on his Christmas card list. @Tom_FA

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3 Comments on "Coventry City Face Up To Another Year in the Third Tier"

  1. Many Coventry fans are unnecessarily gloomy. They highlight all the things that could go wrong, but nothing about what could go right!

    If the Judicial Review went the wrong way for the club, why would it result in further sanctions against the club? The only way I can think of, is if SISU walked away and put the club into administration/liquidation etc. I don’t believe SISU will walk away, whatever the outcome and I believe it will see this through. I believe it will build a new stadium and continue to support the club and achieve a return to the Premiership. It will take longer if things go against the club, but I believe it will happen. I believe the only way SISU would walk away, would be if a) it can’t buy the Ricoh or b) it can’t get planning permission to build a new stadium. This scenario would not be bad simply for SISU, but extremely bad for the long term future of the club. The real issue, is not who owns the football club, but who owns the football ground. If SISU walked away without building a new stadium or buying the Ricoh, the club would still be severely hobbled financially as it has been for the last 9 years! SISU are not the monster that it has been portrayed, the monster is the Labour Council. We have not got a perfectly good stadium in Coventry, it is the Democratic People’s Republic of Coventry Stadium! Our beloved club will continue to decline until it owns its own stadium.

    The average attendance at Sixfields is 2,223 of which 1,623 are home fans, not great but better than the erroneous figures some people produce. I expect those figures will go up with the last two home games being on Good Friday against Swindon and the last home game being against Wolves on Saturday. The good news is that despite the bitter and malicious campaign against the club, over 1,600 supporters have stood by the club. They are all heroes! The gates have suffered for a number of reasons, besides all the propaganda against the club. It wasn’t possible to buy a season ticket until shortly before the season started, because the club didn’t know if, or where it would be playing. The matches were played on many different days of the week, particularly on Sundays, next season most of the games will be played on Saturdays with the night games on Tuesdays. There will not be the uncertainty next season and the club will have all the close season to promote season ticket sales and the fans will be able to budget and have certainty when and where the club will be playing. Playing on Saturday will probably mean bigger attendances than playing on Sundays and it is unlikely that there will be a record winter’s rain next season, leading to 2 Saturday games being postponed and played at night. Might more fans come back, realising that the club will not be going back to the Ricoh anytime soon?

    Players come and go every close season, this is nothing new. I seem to remember that the popular opinion last season, was that the club having lost many of its senior players and suffered a 10 point deduction, would get relegated this season. On the contrary, I believe without the malicious 10 points deduction forced by the Labour Council and the loss of the League’s two top goal scorers halfway through the season, the club would have got into the play-offs this season. Baker, Murphy Moussa and Christie are out of contract, but Murphy and Baker have both said that they want to stay at the club. It is not certain that Moussa and Christie will go. I think that the club can cover for the loss of Christie but will struggle to replace Moussa. Callum Wilson has just signed a 2-year contract which can keep him at the club until 2016 and only recently said that he wants to stay at the club. Unlike Leon Clarke, unless he asks for a transfer, the club should be able to turn down any offers for his services. Fans are unnecessarily gloomy, Pressley might be able to build a cracking team next year. The club will start without a 10 points deduction and no transfer embargo, which like the administrative side of the club, the playing side will be able to plan and organise for the new season

    Steven Pressley is the most important person we need to keep at the club and he has said that he doesn’t want to leave and wants to finish the job he has started. I believe him and I think he will finish the job

    Why the concern over last year’s accounts, it was a case of “same old same old”. The club has lost money for years. Geoffrey Robinson lost a personal fortune of £21 million during his tenure and SISU have lost £70 million in 6 1/4 years. Last year’s accounts in particular were affected by the club’s relegation from the 2nd tier to the 3rd tier. SISU knows what it is letting itself in for, it will lose a lot of money until it buys the Ricoh or is forced to build its own stadium. At least then, the club will have a future and can stop the haemorrhaging of money.

    The latest accounts are for season 2012/13 at the Ricoh and therefore proves that staying at the Ricoh as a tenant is the scenario that is unsustainable! The owner knows it is unsustainable at Sixfields, and it has promised to support the club while a new ground is built, if that proves necessary.

    We didn’t achieve mid-table mediocrity under Coleman and Boothroyd, we nearly got relegated under Coleman on the last day of the season and Boothroyd was sacked, while Thorne just managed to keep the club up in season 2010/11.

    The investors funds don’t only exist as loans, because of course funds have been paid out to creditors, without which the club would have folded. I am sure that the players for example have been paid in real money and not IOUs.

    Fans say that the fan base is contracting, well that view must be based of course on the greatly reduced gates at Sixfields. But hold on a minute, I seem to remember a report some weeks ago that Coventry had the 2nd most number of hits on web sites about football. Could it be that the interest has not gone away but is merely dormant and awaiting a revival?

    It is a myth, that the club said in January, that a site for the new ground would be announced in 3 weeks. Mark Labovitch immediately denied that he ever said that. Just a modicum of common sense would lead one to believe that the club would be highly unlikely to have said any such thing!

    The reality is that the fans never have had much influence or say in the fortunes of any club. This is nothing new! The fans have been misled by the SBT and the KCIC campaign that they could force the club back to the Ricoh. That would have been a disaster for the club and guaranteed a relentless decline that we have witnessed for at least 20 years and has accelerated over the last 9 years. The fans need to open their eyes to the real situation at the club and stop sulking like little children and grow up and start supporting their club again. The club could get back to the Premiership in 5 years or it could take 20 years. I think the fans do have an influence on that prospect.

    For all the mistakes that SISU have made, it has shown commitment and support for our club to the tune of £70 million over the last 6 1/4 years which is more than most of the fans have. Some of the fans are simply bigoted against SISU and simply want it out. But this is wrong and immature. Who do these fans think is going to come in and support a club in the third division with no ground and losing over £7 million a year? Preston Haskell IV is an American tycoon and property developer who has tried to buy several football clubs but been shown the door. In what sense would he be a better prospect than SISU? If the League hadn’t backed SISU at the start of this season, it’s probable the club would have gone out of existence! Who and why would another owner come in and support our club in this scenario? Many of the fans aren’t prepared to back the club, why should any owner save our club? For me SISU and the Sky Blues are indivisible and if you hurt SISU you hurt my club and it is surely a case of better the devil you know!

  2. john unitt says:

    The Michael Jackson song ‘They don’t really care about us’ is in my mind this morning ! As a 60 + supporter of 54 years -and i no longer even live in Coventry – i am incensed and saddened to see the DELIBERATE – AND YES I MEAN DELIBERATE destruction of my beloved Football Club. Excellent article and comments so far. As most of the so called leaders in the UK are narcissistic psychopaths im afraid it doesnt surprise me in the least.. One of the key words for me is the word ‘responsibility’, meaning ‘The Ability to Respond’ ! I have often said that when they built the ‘Statue of Liberty’ the Yanks should have built a ‘Statue of Responsibility’ too! What an absolutely IRRESPONSIBLE BUNCH THEY ALL ARE ! Brian Richardson said ‘We’ll take a Punt’
    All these yesrs on this shabby troop of SISU – ‘I know nothing about Football’ Joy Seppela (WELL BLOODY WELL GO AND FIND OUT WOMAN!)… THEN
    There’s ‘one man and his Dog, Tim Fisher et al who toe the SISU Party line and are patronising and clueless to the fans – endlessly it seems.
    Then theres ACL..
    Then the COUNCIL and its Leader Anne Lucas – WHO CANT EVEN BE BOTHERED TO REFER TO THE MATTER IN HER ‘CHRISTMAS ADDRESS’ How discourteous to the potential (well it WAS) 30,000 fans and not least the ‘Community’ of nearly 1/3 rd of a Million people… THEN
    The Football League and the FA who are toothless, useless and out of touch completely!
    THE CLUB IS ALL BUT DEAD AND THERE IS NO WAY ON EARTH THAT IT WILL SURVIVE ANOTHER 3/4 SEASONS OF NOT PLAYING IN COVENTRY. IF IN DOUBT READ THE SURVEY RESULTS.
    I THINK THERE NEEDS TO BE ONE REALLY BIG PUSH – HOW ABOUT GETTING 20,000 PEOPLE OUT IN THE CITY CENTRE ONE DAY WHERE IT HAS A BIG IMPACT, A FINAL MESSAGE IF YOU LIKE. I WOULD CERTAINLY COME DOWN FROM YORKSHIRE AND KNOW OTHERS WHO WOULD TRAVEL FURTHER!
    A sickening tale of ‘COLLECTIVE IRRESPONSIBILITY” OH that we could shove all of them in a room, with no Food , No drink and only allow them out once they HAD COME TO A BINDING AGREEMENT!.Do you think then they might actually Bloody well talk and make an agreement. Meantime the Fans become the ‘ever shat upon’ who in deed no – one gives a toss about !

  3. john unitt says:

    Just for the record – when i posted my comment at 09.27 the one now shown above it from Peter Chambers had NOT appeared. Whilst i understand Peter’s comments i certainly don’t agree with a lot of his points, so would not have included his comments within the scope of my ‘Excellent Article and comments so far’ – had i read them prior to posting mine.

    An additional point i would like to add is that having become aware of Ronnie Farmers’s comments ‘that he may not live to see Coventry city play at home again’ that is very sad but applies to a great many of us – i’m now 63 and saw Ronnie throughout his career.

    The other point which i perhaps failed to get over in the earlier comments – allied to the one above, is that as far as i am aware, OF THOSE I TERMED AS ‘IRRESPONSIBLE’ HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT IT IS ACTUALLY LIKE TO BE A CCFC SUPPORTER – so they can’t have true empathy for us all !

    Football basically has been ruined by the ‘Gods’ of money and Sky Television, and i sincerely hope i am wrong but i feel that by not playing in Coventry for yet another season is a potential death knell and that at some point we could well be the ‘worse case study’ ever in terms of what has happened to the beautiful game! ~Ultimately as so called custodians the Football League and the FA are, for me the ultimate culprits!

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