Just Give Them What They Want: Ethics & The Sisu Model At Coventry City
This afternoon, more than three and a half thousand Coventry City supporters have made the journey to Vale Park to watch their team play Port Vale in League One. Under normal circumstances, there wouldn’t be anything particularly remarkable about this. Coventry City is, after all, a storied club that is playing below what we might consider to be its “natural” level in League One at the moment. This season, however, is far from “normal circumstances” for this club, which continues to play its home matches thirty-five miles from the city of Coventry itself, in Northampton, with the overwhelming majority of its supporters boycotting in protest at a senseless move taken by the club’s owners.
As the season has worn on, the sense of stalemate over whether or how the club will return to the city of Coventry has grown to a point at which it is now difficult to see how it can be happily resolved. Despite have started the season with a ten point deduction for having failed to exit administration for the start of the new season, Steven Pressley’s team has already managed to clamber out of the relegation places at the foot of the table, and had this sanction not been imposed the team would be sitting in fifth place in the table with a great chance of getting promotion back to the Championship at the end of this season. Indeed, should the form with which the team has started the season continue, they may yet figure somewhere near the top end of the table come the end of the season.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the scale of the boycott that is currently taking place at Sixfields this season. C0ventry City’s average home attendance this season so far is a paltry 2,068 people, compared with an average of 10,948 last season, and it is also worth pointing out that this figure was twenty-five per cent down on the 15,120 average that the club had managed the year before. From 15,120 people to 2,068 people in two seasons is a figure that should redden the faces of both the club’s owners and the Football League, who facilitated the position in which the club finds itself today. There has been little indication that either are particularly shamed by this dismal failure, though. Somehow or other, this state of affairs is something that has been allowed to become The Way Things Are for Coventry City Football Club.
Even though such a situation seems hopeless, there remain some that are keeping the faith and are trying to get the parties concerned back around the table to try and at least get the football club back to Coventry. Last week, the Sky Blues Trust redoubled ts efforts to try and get the stadium owners ACL and the club’s owners Otium/Sisu back around the table to try and negotiate a return to Coventry for the club, stating that, “There is a glimmer of an opportunity for a potential resolution and it is now up to both sides to put past differences behind them, look dispassionately at what is really best for their respective businesses and what is best for the fans of the club.” ACL have previously indicated that they are happy to return to the negotiating table. Will Sisu do the same?
The answer to this question is not known for sure, but there is little evidence to suggest that the owners have any interest whatsoever in doing so. It is strongly believed by many that Sisu’s tactic from the very start was to financially distress ACL into a such a bad financial condition that it could pick up The Ricoh Arena for next to nothing, a theory that gains traction when we consider a desultory offer made to ACL to buy the ground that it has been suggested to us was made shortly before the club’s period in administration came to an end. If this is true, then we can only surmise that there was, is and may never be any intention on the part of the club’s owners to return to The Ricoh Arena in any capacity other than as its owners, and as its owners having paid next to nothing for it.
That such behaviour is morally bankrupt should go without saying, but there appears to be a surprising number of people who believe that Sisu’s bullying tactics should result in them getting exactly what they want. The latest person to put his name to this is Les Reid of the Coventry Telegraph, who wrote an extraordinary article for the local newspaper which ended with him concluding that:
A sale to Otium/Sisu may seem unpalatable. In the acrimonious climate, some fans no doubt fear reprisals if they dare utter those words as an option to be considered. But it may also represent the best way of seeing Sisu/Otium ultimately exit the club and the city in the medium term. It would still appear to represent Sisu’s best hope of a return on investment.
Reid’s analysis of the situation at the club is that, “That was then, this is now,” but, whilst he acknowledges that “A sale to Otium/Sisu may seem unpalatable,” he also, in saying that, “I have little doubt that fans and the people of Coventry have the power to influence their elected representatives in this regard”, seems to imply that Coventry supporters should apply pressure to their elected representatives to sell the stadium to the club’s owners, even though the stadium owners have never suggested that they do wish to sell it whilst the modus operandum of Sisu in the past seems never to have been to pay the market value for anything, if they can get away with it.
Reid frames the decision of ACL to not agree to the CVA which would have prevented the club from exiting administration as, “the hammer blow of a further 10-point penalty”, when such a deduction was no such thing. ACL has a legal right to reject a CVA – and they weren’t the only creditor to do so; HMRC joined them – but the league table itself, which shows Steven Pressley’s team already at the cusp of pulling clear of the relegation places at the foot of the table, demonstrates that there was no “hammer blow” here. A win at Vale Park this afternoon could lift the team as high as fourteenth place in the table, just eight spots below the play-off places, before even the end of September. Les Reid describes himself as “no apologist for ACL, or the clearly still hugely unpopular Sisu/Otium” in the middle of an article which strongly suggests otherwise.
The supporters of Coventry City Football Club have been let down by many, by the owners of the football club that they love, by the administrator hired by those owners whose handling of that process made an absolute mockery of insolvency laws which are supposed, in theory, to balance the survival of a business with the interests of creditors, and by the Football League, who had it within their control to act to nip all of this in the bud and folded when they were called upon to take a stand. And if the final endgame of this wretched story does result in Sisu getting exactly what we believe was their intention all along, then perhaps the only conclusion to reach is that there is nothing actually wrong at all with the ethics of how they go about their business after all. Food for thought, indeed.
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