So it turns out that the most obvious explanation is exactly that for obvious reasons, in this case. The Football League, an organisation which has become highly attuned to people trying to game the system over the last ten years or so, passed its verdict on Coventry City today and that verdict was as expected: a ten point deduction with immediate effect which effectively ends the club’s already faltering chances of making the League One play-offs at the end of this season. Considering that, whilst the team’s improvement on the pitch has been dramatic considering the dismal start to the season that it endured, it still hadn’t managed to worm its way into the top six in the division yet this season and the fact that the punishment might have been considerably worse had those looking at it taken a less charitable viewpoint on what has been happening at the club over the last few months, the club’s owners, SISU, may well, despite their statement this afternoon expressing their ‘disappointment’ at the League’s verdict, have cause for believing that they have got off somewhat lightly today.
This, however, doesn’t mean that they are completely out of the woods yet. If there is one thing that has happened as a result of the considerable coverage that this story has received during a relative lull in the football calendar, it has been that attention is now being lavished upon it in a way that it hasn’t been previously, even though it has been rumbling, with a degree of inevitability about it, towards this conclusion for several months, now. The Football Association and the Football League, we can be assured, will be watching whatever happens next very closely. The media, some sections of which may have been idly wondering what had happened to Coventry City since it was relegated from the Premier League in 2001, is likely to as well. And most importantly of all, ACL, who got the club into administration but didn’t get the administrators that they’d wanted, will be watching like hawks to ensure that the man entrusted with this particularly thankless task goes about his duties with the neutrality that his appointment legally demands rather than being swayed by those who appointed him.
This wasn’t the only piece of widely expected news concentrating the club to be announced today, though. It has also been confirmed today that, after six days of speculation following the club empty its offices and club shop there last Friday, Coventry City will be playing its final three matches of this season at The Ricoh Arena. Numerous alternative options had been suggested for the club over the last few days, such as Walsall’s Bescot Stadium and Birmingham City’s St Andrews, but none of these were really satisfactory in any way for the club and staying away from The Ricoh Arena would surely only have damaged the club’s prospects still further considering its now pressing need to demonstrate that it can continue as a viable business. Common sense, it would seem, has prevailed in at least one respect in a story which has given very little indication of being anything other than nonsensical over the last few months or so.
In the meantime, there is a new name lurking on the horizon for this club. Preston Haskell IV was born in Florida in 1966 as the son of Preston Hampton Haskell III, the founder and chairman of The Haskell Company, the largest privately owned construction company in Florida, made his estimated fortune of £164m from property and sales, and claims to already have an “an agreement in principle to purchase the Higgs Trust’s 50% share of the Ricoh and take over its management.” There is nothing to suggest that Haskell would stride into Coventry, change the club’s name to the Coventry-Florida Cougars and insist that they change their shirts to incorporate, say, a picture of his face, but after the experience of SISU, Coventry supporters should be asking questions of him now rather than praying that he is a saviour who will squander his entire fortune to get the club out of the hands of its current owners.
None of this is a matter of disrespecting him in any way. It is a sad reflection on the state of the modern game that recent history suggests that strangers who suddenly turn up in town should be treated with caution and that supporters, for better or for worse, often seem to be the only people that are capable of carrying out the sort of due diligence that football club owners seem to need these days. There is nothing wrong with this, of course. He is looking to get involved with a football club, and football clubs mean an awful lot to an awful lot of people. Football, as we have said repeatedly on this site over the last seven years or so, is emphatically not “just another business” and prospective football club owners who get involved without heeding that warning do so at their own risk. The club’s supporters trust remains the most viable outlet for supporters that have become disaffected by the events of the club’s recent past, and those critical of it are best advised to join it and make it into what they hope it can be. That, in essence, is one of the fundamental points about supporters trusts. They are – or, at the very least, should be – democratic bodies.
The story of Coventry City will rumble on, and there are still plenty of questions concerning the last few months that remain unanswered. How did the club’s reported debt balloon to £60m, as has been reported this week? What sort of offer will be made to creditors as a result of the CVA which will now have to be agreed to satisfy Football League and FA rules? And, most importantly of all in anything like the long term, who will end up owning Coventry City Football Club? The answer to these questions will be answered over the coming weeks and months, but there is at least a sense that, for the put upon supporters of this particular club, a corner may have finally been turned this week. After months of arguing and contractual wrangling which led to news and scenes at the end of last week which were as bizarre as they were troubling, perhaps the common sense that has prevailed today could become a portent of the future for the club. Coventry City, members of the top division of English football for three and a half unbroken decade from the end of the 1960s until the start of this century, can obviously be a viable football club and it is punching under its weight as possible. It will, however, require careful and skilled management to get the club back to where it has the potential to be. After a miserable decade, it is time to reverse the fortunes of Coventry City Football Club.
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