Eye Witness Assessment: Coventry City and Sorry Sixfields

Posted by on Aug 26, 2013 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments
Eye Witness Assessment: Coventry City and Sorry Sixfields

The great surrealist filmmaker, Luis Buñuel would have relished the scenes at Northampton’s Sixfields stadium on Sunday as Coventry City staged their second League 1 fixture of the 2013-14 season.

Scarcely more than 2,000 souls were present as the Sky Blues entertained Preston North End, almost half of them from Lancashire, while the Alwyn Hargrave Stand was left empty for the occasion.

The Sky Blues fans who were in attendance were mainly situated opposite in the prosaically named West Stand and given my last visit to watch a football fixture in Northampton had seen fans stretched out in single file behind a rope at the old County Ground, these lodgings will have felt luxurious even if Sixfields is unscintillating by the standards of the post-Hillsborough meccano era.

So what of the ethics of attending such a parody of an occasion?

The small smattering of Sky Blues followers perched on the rim of dell in which Sixfields is situated seemed to move on at half-time and whether this was at the insistence of the authorities, I could not say. Either way, they and the thousands of supporters who decided to give proceedings a miss entirely have decided they have a point to make.

And it’s a good one – with new ownership currently being sought, the brinkmanship of current stewards Sisu Capital continues to foster new lows. Having decided to opt out of paying rent at a level they had agreed, the venture capitalists have refused the most recent offer of a reduction from Arena Coventry Limited, owners of the club’s rightful home, the Ricoh Stadium.

These terms are organised so that the amount of rent paid according to which division Coventry City are playing in, with the price set at £150,000 per year while the club remains at its current level, £100,000 were they to end up in League Two and £400,000 in the Championship.

Although crowds at the Ricoh were far from huge, it’s possible that anywhere between 5,000 and 15,000 season tickets could have been shifted had Sisu continued to pay their dues whereas less than 1,000 fans are currently showing up at Sixfields – continuing to play in the shadow of the famous National Lift Tower makes no sense to anyone bar Sisu.

But what of the football authorities? Questions have been asked by Coventry North East MP Bob Ainsworth as to whether legal threats have been issued by Sisu towards the Football League. They may not have been but in which other environment can a person not be brought to book for non-payment of rent?

When Lady Godiva was still to be seen riding through the streets of the city perhaps – but not in these more regulated times.

So Coventry fans are right to give the fixture a miss – any monies spent will find their way into the pockets of Sisu and while this tactic is unlikely to smoke them out in the short term, it is perhaps the only way supporters can register their dissatisfaction.

I did wrestle with my conscience as to my own attendance. Accompanying two Preston North End fans, I took up my seat in the South Stand (once gloriously sponsored by Paul Cox Panel and Paint) and should state that I am not a Coventry City follower.

But on reflection, I should perhaps not have paid my £16. Sure, the number of Coventry fans who will have attended last season’s fixture away at Stadium: MK will have been large and the number of Preston supporters who will have thought twice about the location of Sunday’s match countable on the fingers of one hand. In short, we don’t tend to immerse ourselves overly in the problems of other teams.

But as purveyor of a Football League blog which has a position on these issues and has published a number of articles from the likes of Ian Palmer, Tom Furnival-Adams and Neil Allison on this topic, I should perhaps not have been in attendance – if we don’t recognise the commonalities present in financial malpractice across the leagues, then it will continue to prosper.

Had I decided to opt out, I would have missed a simply extraordinary match, made all the more remarkable in that the 4-4 score line followed on from a 5-4 win for the Sky Blues over Bristol City a fortnight ago.

Coventry’s impressive attacking display featured players at the opposite end of the scale in career terms. Leon Clarke has cast a somewhat sullen figure at various of his pit stops, including a simply dreadful spell at Sheffield Wednesday where his lack of commitment was marked. Here though, he was menacing indeed – pouncing on a breakaway ball from Callum Wilson to finish coolly – little did we know that the net would be breached on a further seven occasions at that point.

The striker’s protruding tongue as he made a point of circling the back of the goal in front of the away fans perhaps gives an indication of the ‘swagger’ that has frustrated assorted managers and it is to be hoped that the career lying in wait for Wilson will be less chequered.

For not to put too fine a point on it, the former winner of a national apprentice of the month award was a revelation, showing pace and skill as well as great finishing ability. His first may have been a tap in after Clarke had stung the fingers of Declan Rudd but his second saw him advance into the worryingly large gap in Preston’s defence to rifle a shot into the corner.

Amid the humble surrounds of Sixfields, it was easy to forget that Coventry are a big city club and hence, the pool of talent from which to draw on locally is often an impressive one. Another youth product, the rangy Bristol born midfielder Billy Daniels also had a great game while Conor Thomas also showed well as City increasingly dominated the midfield battle.

Much of that superiority can be put down to a passing style as well as a real measure of individual skill. The twists and turns of the forward pairing were enhanced by the promptings of Franck Moussa who, while perhaps less noticeable than he has been in the earlier fixtures this campaign, often proved to be too fleet footed for Preston’s more lumpen personnel. Moussa, Thomas and Daniels were joined by John Fleck, the former Glasgow Rangers prodigy, long since converted to a midfielder and always looking to play the defence splitting pass.

So with so many notable performances, why did City fail to win the match?

It certainly wasn’t due to the displays of full backs Blair Adams and Cyrus Christie, both at the club for some time now, and who are as dynamic a pair of defensive wing men as this division is likely to see. No, it was more in the centre and between the sticks that problems reoccurred – newcomer Andy Webster and another youngster, Jordan Clarke both looked shaky even if veteran Kevin Davies was kept remarkably quiet. Clarke had looked set to leave Coventry in July but has received a welcome stay of execution.

Which leaves keeper Joe Murphy and his personal meltdown on the day was the chief reason why the West Midlanders failed to claim what should have been a deserved victory. At fault for Preston’s first and final goals, he let Peter Clarke’s back post volley evade him while he somehow failed to collect as Chris Humphrey gave PNE a seeming winner. Usually an efficient custodian, let’s put it down to an off-day.

Thank goodness then for Mathieu Manset, a mercurial striker who I have seen pounce late before. His direct running caused Preston problems in the final stages and his equaliser rounded off a truly kamikaze afternoon.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham (pen name: Lanterne Rouge) is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 47 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Football Attic, The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.

8 Comments

  1. Dan
    August 26, 2013

    Good article. There are also reasons for fans to follow Coventry to Northampton. It’s different to MK Dons as that the moved club still exists, and is still alive. As a Coventry fan I believe that the move can only be temporary, Northampton is hardly a bigger sporting market than Coventry. For me the stay away fans are more likely to end up killing this club than returning it to its rightful home. Of course I would much prefer the club to still be playing in Coventry but while both sides of the dispute offer loaded terms designed to look attractive to media outlets and casual fans but are in actuality unacceptable, there’s little chance of progress. It’s an emotive issue but I see a boycott as counterproductive to the ultimate goal of returning the club to its home.

    Reply
    • Mr B
      August 27, 2013

      Good article but Dan your a idiot, stay away fans are not killing the club SISU and the likes of yourself, their puppets are, SISU don’t give a stuff abo tu the fans else they wouldn’t of moved to Sixfields in the first place, the fans are far, far, far from their thinking.

      The likes of you going to Sixfields also harms the City of Coventrys economy and that is down to SISU, they don’t care about the fans, the City or the club only money and how they can make copious amounts of it in the shadiest way possible..

      Reply
  2. David Trussler
    August 26, 2013

    An entertaining report on what sounded like an even more entertaining game. I feel I ought to correct a few of the points made though.

    Firstly on the attendance. You are right to suggest this was poor but of the 2,068 present 562 were away supporters so almost exactly 1,500 were Sky Blues fans. Not quite the proportions you suggest and significantly a greater share for “home” fans than the previous game, where around 1,000 were in attendance. Put another way an increase of 50% of Coventry City supporters decided to attend yesterday and anecdotal evidence suggests this figure will continue to increase.

    Secondly on the stadium. I last visited Northampton to watch a football match for Coventry City’s disastrous FA Cup tie some years back – from the sound of it an experience not unlike your previous visit. Your impressions of Sixfields are not great but I have also heard it described as a tidy little stadium, due for significant renovation, supported by a council that understands the importance of such things. Anyone wishing to compare the latter point with the attitude of Coventry City Council is free so to do.

    Thirdly the rent situation you describe is inaccurate. Sisu have not been offered, let alone turned down, a rental figure of £150,000 for League One football. This offer was apparently made by stadium owners ACL to the administrator as a compromise that would allow them to sign the CVA that would have seen the club exit administration. If this figure is still on the table – and that is not certain – it should be considered but tied as it is to a ten year lease, with no talk of possible whole or part ownership and no facility to access match-day revenues it would certainly not be acceptable to the club’s owners. A fact that it is inconceivable ACL are unaware of.

    Of course the current attendances at Sixfields are less than they would be at the Ricoh Arena, but to say this makes no sense is to ignore that the owners have stated it to be a short-term arrangement. During this time they will fund the losses until a more sustainable alternative – whether that is a brand new stadium or a return to their former home – is completed.

    Those are the factual inaccuracies that I feel people should be made aware of. That you have decided to throw your weight behind a boycott campaign that you acknowledge is unlikely to succeed is your call, but highlights for me a major problem in responding to this situation. If fans choose not to attend because they feel it is wrong that is a purely personal choice and highly commendable. But to actually change the situation I believe a more united and widespread campaign must be built: one that acknowledges the role played in this debacle by the owners of both the football club and the stadium, not just one party. What form that should take is open to debate but in order to have that debate we should begin from the facts.

    Reply
    • Lanterne Rouge
      August 26, 2013

      Cheers for the really thoughtful response David. I hope many of those who attempt to produce blog posts on football finance will sympathise that it is often hard to paint an accurate picture when conflicting information litters the web and on the terms of the supposed offer, I’m prepared to bow to the infotmation you provide (I recently had to give up writing a post about Birmingham City because sources conflicted so much).

      Taking your other points in turn also, I agree that its’s perhaps a bit churlish to knock Sixfields and certainly the old County Ground was a farcical place to watch the sport – while my guess on the attendance certainly wasn’t based on any numerical evidence – more a sense of how many fans from either side seemed to be there – there certainly appeared to be more Sky Blues fans and the number atop the hill was actually very small indeed. 2.016 does remain a woeful crowd though and so the boycott is proving to be tangible.

      I think I sympathise with the boycott campaign because across football, it seems that that is fast becoming the only language that those who are governing the sport might understand but I do appreciate that a more holistic, less kneejerk approach would likley have better long term results. Of course this comments section is open to others who might want to explain why they would back the boycott.

      Reply
    • James Ledger
      August 26, 2013

      Surely we all know SISU’s intentions by now?

      Why did they bring a judicial review claim in response to the Council bailing out ACL with a loan when they weren’t receiving their rent? Why did they reject a deal to keep the club in the city and more than quarter the club’s income?

      A very reasonable rent has been offered. One that is well below market value for a venue that has recently held Olympic football.

      They want the freehold of the stadium and will financially distress ACL to get it at a knock down price. The club is merely their means of leverage.

      Why should the Council hand over a community asset like that?

      What assurances do we have from SISU that they will unite the club and stadium? The very fact that they have willingly let the club’s income and future income take such a hit should tell you how important it is to them.

      Let’s say they own the freehold then sell it on to another outside interest… What assurances do we have then? We could end up homeless again but this time with a landlord that doesn’t want a football team as a tenant!

      Reply
  3. Derek Millward
    August 26, 2013

    Some interesting comments on your article from some obvious pro SISU people. The main point that these people forget in a hurry is the fact that it was SISU that stopped paying the agreed rent at the Ricoh and that SISU put the club into administration. The way they have used the system to avoid paying what they had agreed to pay to ACL (which is part owned by a charity)beggars belief.
    If people wish to follow the club to Northampton so be it but do not put the blame on ACL when it was SISU and SISU alone that made that decision.

    Reply
  4. Two from the two | Long long road
    April 10, 2014

    […] Eye Witness Assessment:  Coventry City and Sorry Sixfields […]

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