No End In Sight To The Agony Of Coventry City Supporters
Steven Pressly celebrated his first anniversary as the manager of Coventry City last Saturday. It didn’t turn out to be a particularly happy anniversary for the Sky Blues manager. His team has won just three of its twelve league matches so far in 2014 and, whilst his team sits in eleventh place in the League One table at the moment, it is only six points above the relegation places and has a distinct feeling of stutter about its form at the moment. Not, of course, that this makes a great deal of difference to the vast majority of Coventry City supporters at the moment. Just 1,637 people turned out for their last “home” match against Walsall last week, and there seems little sign that the ongoing boycott of the club’s matches in Northampton is going to break at any point this season.
Last week’s release of the annual accounts for The Sky Blue Sports & Leisure Group, the company which owns just over 90% of the shares in the Otium Entertainment Group, the company that brought Coventry City – or the two companies that made that up, at least – from administration last summer, then, don’t necessarily give us too much of an indication of what the club’s financial position might be right now, when we consider that attendances have collapsed from an average of 10,973 at The Ricoh Arena last season to just 2,287 at Sixfields this season. To some extent, what the figures for the 2012/13 season reveal is that a degree of decay had settled on the club’s financial position before the row over The Ricoh Arena even really began to get into gear.
We already knew that the average attendance last season was down 27% on the year before. The accounts show the effect that such a feeling of stasis can have on a football club’s bottom line. Turnover for the year was £6.6m, down from £10.8m in 2012, whilst losses were up, from £7,155,140 in comparison with a loss £4,003,493 over the previous year even though wages dropped to £6.96m from £9.91m for the previous year, the club made a profit of £1.65m from player sales and overheads dropped to £4.14m from £5.35m on the previous year’s figures. A fall in attendances, turnover and commercial revenues seems to have combined to paint a gloomy picture of the club’s financial position last year. Still, at least they were filed on time this year.
That was then, though, and this is now. With crowds now having plummeted by a further 80% – only Morecambe, Dagenham & Redbridge and Accrington Stanley have managed a lower average home attendance than the Sky Blues this season – it seems inconceivable that the club will be able to post figures any better this time next year. By this time next year, however, this entire game of chess might have changed direction again. There’s a judicial review coming up in a couple of months over a loan facilitated by Coventry City Council on behalf of the stadium owners which could end just about anyhow, although the likelihood of it ending soon and without tedious appeal after tedious appeal seems to be pretty slender.
Meanwhile, the Coventry Telegraph has been doing a little digging with regard to the recent past and the possible future of the club over the last few days. The Football League has confirmed it is still waiting for the club to fulfil the commitmenta made when it was permitted to leave Coventry for Northampton last summer. The club had to accept a further ten point deduction for coming season and agree to keep the Football League up to date with plans for the new stadium. It is now believed that the Football League is starting to grow impatient with the club’s lack of activity on this front. “We are in an ongoing dialogue with the club regarding its plans to return to Coventry and will be seeking an update in accordance with the membership agreement,” a spokesman said when pressed on the matter.
In addition to this, the club also had to sign an agreement which included paying a £1million bond as well as paying ACL, the stadium operators, the £590,000 that it would have received had it agreed the CVA proposed while the club was in adminstration last summer. These commitments, as of last weekend, hadn’t been honoured either, according to a Telegraph article last weekend, although the club stated that, “Nobody has any intention of dishonouring that agreement, it will be paid when the liquidation [of CCFC Ltd and CCFC (Holdings) Ltd] is complete.” The small matter of why the Football League didn’t insist on it being paid last summer doesn’t seem to have been addressed anywhere.
Elsewhere, the Telegraph has also revisited an area explored by the Sky Blue Trust in January, issuing Freedom of Information requests to various bodies that would be involved in the planning of a new stadium as well as local authorities from whom planning permission for a new stadium would have to be obtained. None of Department For Transport/Highways Agency, The Environment Agency or The Department for Culture Media and Sport had received any contact from anybody related to the club on the subject, and neither had four local police forces, two universities and eight local authorities. Of those, only one – Nuneaton and Borough Bedworth Council – stated that they had spoken to the club regarding a new stadium. CBRE, the real estate agents acting for the club regard to this, has stated that, “Revealing the preferred location for a new stadium would not be in the best interests of the club or in the best interests of delivering a new stadium” (they didn’t offer a reason as to why this would be), and the club issued a statement in which it claimed that, “We are keeping the Football League fully informed of our plans and they have been satisfied with the progress we have shown them to date.”
Of course, the problem with this is that almost nobody believes the people that run Coventry City Football Club any more on any subject. It was in the middle of January that the club wheeled out non-executive director Mark Labovitch to make a statement to the effect that the club would be announcing the site for its new stadium three weeks later – they even had a shiny picture of it – but, almost two months on from then, there has been no sign of the site being made public and in its most recent public statements both the club and those acting on its behalf seem to have decided that, rather than the location of any new stadium “in the Coventry area” being a public matter, it is now apparently a private one, to be shared only with the Football League. Indeed, there is now a growing number of the club’s supporters who believe that all of this talk of a new stadium is little more than a stalling tactic ahead of the Judicial Review, with the long term aim remaining distressing opposing parties into gifting the freehold to the Ricoh Arena to the club’s owners. All we can say for certain that the idea of the club returning to the Coventry area in a new stadium within three years seems at best fanciful, and at worst downright mendacious.
It is, however, the question of what the Football League should do if the club doesn’t satisfy all of the conditions that were laid down in order to facilitate the move to Northampton that should perhaps trouble the supporters of Coventry City the most of all. If the terms of this arrangement – an arrangement for which the Football League was widely criticised to the extent that its very competence as a governing organisation was called into question, let us not forget – have been broken, then it surely has little alternative but to sanction the club severely and, considering the likely state of the club’s accounts at the moment, merely fining the club would appear to be a singularly pointless exercise. So, would the only appropriate punishment – should it ever be deemed that the owners of the club be brought to account over any broken promises – be through demotion or further swingeing points deductions?
So, where does it end for the supporters of Coventry City? Well, it’s unlikely to end with the Judicial Review, since it seems highly unlikely that the losing side of that argument will concede without appealing. And with Sisu refusing to return to The Ricoh Arena unless they have the freehold to the stadium – for reasons never publicly explained, though most could hazard a guess as to why – and the stadium owners don’t seem to want or need to sell it. In addition to this, and as mentioned above, it seems highly unlikely to the point of being inconceivable that the club will back in Coventry in a new stadium in a couple of years. Crowds are already down by 80% on last season, and how many more might drift away at the end of this season? There remains, as there has been for so long as to be an embarrassment to the supposedly “governing” bodies of the game in this country, no end in sight to the agony of the supporters of Coventry City Football Club. Small wonder that interest the game is giving every impression of dying in Coventry at the moment.
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