Have Coventry City said Goodbye to the Ricoh?
“Earthling Borough? Does that mean we’ve been playing on the Planet Zog these past few years?”
The Coventry City fan who asked this question may well have enquired. The suggestion that the club could up sticks to play their home matches at Nene Park in Irthlingborough, once home of Rushden & Diamonds, 45 miles distant, has brought to a head the sorry tale of the Ricoh Arena.
This blog has gone on record before in wondering whether moving from Highfield Road in the first place was a good idea. The old ground was antiquated in places but enjoyed a much more central location and seemed relatively modern compared to some, significant renovations having been carried out as recently as 1995.
The Sky Blues’ slow on-pitch decline hasn’t helped and nor has their lack of control over the premises, with the stadium joint owned by Coventry City Council and the Alan Edwards Higgs Trust charity.
Comically oversized at 32,000, this nonetheless imposing edifice has become a millstone around Coventry City’s neck. Recently, an impasse has developed with the club’s owners, Sisu Capital highlighting the extraordinary levels of rent needed to continue playing there.
With other teams in the division forking out an average of £170,000 a year to lease their playing facilities, Arena Coventry Limited’s £1.28 million tariff seems steep indeed; even if the building is far from typical by League 1 standards.
Refusing to play ball, Sisu (who presumably did at one point sign a contract agreeing to these terms) have threatened to depart for Northamptonshire or, alternatively, to Hinckley United’s Greene King Stadium, a mere 13 miles away and the home of a club which themselves are in dire financial straits.
ACL provided Coventry 21 days from December 5th to either pay what they owe, reach agreement to the satisfaction of the creditors, or apply to put the demand aside in the courts. That Boxing Day deadline is now looming.
In yesterday’s programme for the home fixture with Preston North End, Mark Robins defiantly said that he would be back at the Ricoh for the New Year’s Day fixture with Shrewsbury but aside from an oblique reference in Graeme Hawley’s View From the Terraces column, the publication displayed an almost Pravda like denial of the situation’s gravity.
6,000 season ticket holders won’t fit into Hinckley’s 4,329 places and Nene Park would also be a squeeze even if 2,300 extra seats are available. With average gates of 10,569 slightly boosted by a relatively bumper attendance of 12,230 on Saturday, the awkwardness of City’s predicament is clear.
Of course administration is another option and drastic as that may be given the potentially damaging impact it would have on the club’s smaller creditors, recent events on the pitch might allow the Sky Blues’ faithful to feel that this would be the least worst option.
For the team has enjoyed a rich current of form under the understated management of Mark Robins – putting 5 goals past both Hartlepool and Walsall, winning 4-1 at high flying Doncaster and edging into the later stages of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy with a win on penalties over Sheffield United. A ten point deduction would put Coventry in the relegation zone – but only just.
Donny apart, some of those wins have come at the expense of the division’s weaker sides but it’s a rejuvenated David McGoldrick, on a short term loan from Nottingham Forest who has garnered most of the headlines.
McGoldrick made his name at Southampton, shining in a struggling team at the time, but his new club’s profligacy in shelling out major bucks for a player in a position where they were already well served by Lewis McGugan was odd.
It’s not worked out for him at the City Ground and there’s no doubt the languid style doesn’t help – at times yesterday, he patrolled forward areas with disdain for Preston’s old fashioned back four, combining well with Gary McSheffrey’s promptings from the left – both were prominent in the early stages although the loanee’s best moment came when he latched on to a beautifully judged long pass to hit a lovely volley that flew narrowly low and wide.
McSheffrey, once a £4 million pound man and a Premier League player caused a lot of issues for ex-Didcot Town right back Jack King and it was via the veteran, as well as the leggy Adam Barton, once of Preston, that most of the best moments came.
Robins’ seems intent on getting City playing the right away and there was an inevitable contrast to the direct physicality and persistent pressing game deployed by Graham Westley’s charges. Barton was central to that, allowed to continue in the side at the expense of the returning captain Carl Baker and displaying the kind of creativity that his father, a bassist for beat combo The Animals, must surely possess.
The formation was fluid and modern with another, at the moment short term acquisition Franck Moussa also getting forward well from the right – he, McSheffrey and Barton forming an offensively minded trio behind the point man McGoldrick.
Having not visited the Ricoh for a good while, it seemed surprising to not see Michael Doyle or Sammy Clingan in sky blue. Their midfield enforcer tendencies have been acquired by Steve Jennings, required to mop up behind those ahead of him. Displaying the tenacity you would expect of a man whose previous posting was in Lanarkshire, he has had a decent season but here struggled with the closing down of John Mousinho and Joel Byrom.
Preston’s snuffing out of the supply line to the forwards made things difficult as the game wore on, with the men in sky blue looking tired and lacking fitness in comparison to the men once disparagingly referred to as ‘non-league brickie types’. Earlier, however, another loan man, James Bailey had swept in an adroit pull back from McSheffrey. Bailey is another man Cov will be desperate to keep hold of.
At the back, William Edjenguélé has been one of the finds of the season, having adopted a peripatetic career which last saw him turning out in the Greek League for Panetolikos. His strength and size recall a former club hero Mo Konjić although he and his defensive cohorts did struggle under the high ball on occasion – King missing narrowly with a header and Lee Holmes equalising the piece after Edjenguélé and central defensive partner Richard Wood allowed a gap to emerge.
One horrible hoof into touch signalled the nervousness late on and City will have been content with a point in the end. Similarly, the precocious Cyrus Christie once put his team in trouble with an ineffectual chip forward, incurring the wrath of motor mouth keeper Joe Murphy, a man whom the excellent Sky Blues Blog has described as no Keiren Westwood – a reference to the club’s outstanding keeper of recent times.
Completing the XI, Sunderland’s Blair Adams had a tidy match at left back and if it’s sensible to employ those with no lasting impact on the wage bill, to have so many temporary staff members does add to the uncertainty surrounding this corner of the West Midlands.
But it could be the East Midlands to which Coventry will decamp unless the next few days brings brighter news. Ian Palmer eloquently summarised some of the deep rooted causes of Coventry City’s current malaise in our Turmoil Week series of posts almost a year ago and the problems have not gone away.
At root, ACL can hardly be blamed for their Rachmanesque tendencies and it’s undoubtedly with the ever shady Sisu that most of the blame lies. Their initial figurehead Ray Ranson bailed out in March 2011 while their long term commitment is highly questionable. Meanwhile, gates have not matched those enjoyed by others of similar size who fell into the third tier, Norwich, Leicester and Southampton among them. Signs on the pitch are as encouraging as they have been for some time, but uncertainty continue to grip Coventry City.