“Real football, real fans,” reads the banner at the head of the Football League’s website, but seldom can those words ever rung more hollow than they do this evening. The Football League today ratified the departure of Coventry City to Sixfields, the home of Northampton Town. A football club has replanted to a community that isn’t its own, dragged away against the will of its supporters by owners who have given no indication that they are even in Coventry in the first place for any other reason than their own enrichment – or, at least, a business plan which might have enriched them but hasn’t gone anything like according to plan.
SISU is as SISU does, though. There’s little else to say about them which can’t be summarised by noting that they have done nothing but agitate against a move away from The Ricoh Arena in spite of the fact that the objections of the club’s supporters have been well known for some considerable time. And perhaps there will be enough mugs who will follow the club the thirty-five miles to Northampton and the thirty-five miles back twenty-three times next season to keep this withered husk of a club alive for however long it takes for a new stadium to materialise within – or at least, perhaps, near – the city of Coventry itself.
But they are not our concern, any more. Exactly what tactics they have used to browbeat their way to exactly what they want may remain unknown forever, but at least we can understand that, as a company from the more ruthless end of the world of neo-capitalism, they were always likely to be ruthless in their behaviour. All they have done is act to type. It may be a ruthless type that exists in a moral vacuum in which the only thing worth so much as an inch of space is worship of the false god Mammon, but it is a type. The Football League, on the other hand, should be considered through a different set of values, but it is a set of values at which we can place “real fans” very firmly of this evening.
Their statement was full of ameliorating words which were no doubt meant to appease those angered by their decision, but the only impression that they have given has been of an organisation that, when push came to shove and the future of League football in a city that has hosted League football since 1919 was held in its palm, abdicated its responsibilities in the most pathetic way imaginable. “In the Board’s view, it was a matter of “deep regret” that it had not proved possible for the club’s proposed purchaser to reconcile its differences with the owners of the Ricoh Arena – Arena Coventry Limited (ACL),” it read, as if this was a subject over which they held no control. The very next sentence makes it clear where their priorities lay: “However, with the new season less than four weeks away, the Board required certainty as to where the Club would play its matches from the start of the new campaign.” In other words, you can do what you like to a football club and move it wherever you like, if it all happens after the fixtures for the following season have been decided.
There has been an attempt, a feeble one, but an attempt nevertheless, to try and hold SISU to some sort of commitment over actually bothering to return to the city of Coventry. “Otium will also be required to provide a Performance Bond of £1m with The Football League as an assurance of the club’s commitment to return to the Coventry area”, they wrote, apparently unaware of the fact that such a sum of money would be but a trifling expense in the event of the club actually returning to the city. At the top of the same statement, however, came a subtle change of language which may prove significant in a couple of years time. The first paragraph of the statement ends with reference to “an initial period of three seasons,” which indicates that even the three year time period for the club to return to Coventry has been jettisoned as a condition to SISU being allowed to move it away.
Coming at the start of its one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary, the Football League should be starting the new season with its head hung in shame. Most organisations find themselves in situations in which most of their existences involve making humdrum decisions which are easy to administer and pass without a great deal of comment. It is on the bigger issues, the once a year or once a decade decisions, that their reputations will come to stand or fall. The Football League has had the opportunity, over this issue, to act in the best interests of supporters and to stamp its authority on the competition that of which it supposed to be in charge. Instead, they have acted in manner that seems to favour the interests of the hedge fund and the fixture list over those of the supporters of one of its member clubs, and in doing so it has demonstrated its priorities to the supporters of each of its seventy-two member clubs. And those who think that none of this really matters because it’s somebody else’s club in somebody else’s city are best advised to remember that there was a time, not too long ago, when Coventry City supporters would not have believed that this could happen to them, until it did.
We don’t know whether staying away from Sixfields will starve SISU out of Northampton and/or Coventry. What we do know is that the very bulwark against this sort of thing happening, the Football League itself, have allowed a company to effectively put itself into administration, buy it back out of administration and then uproot that club to a town in the different part of the country – and Northampton, let us be absolutely clear on this, is categorically not in the same part of the England as Coventry – a few weeks later. This, in short, is what the Football League has done. They have sold the supporters of Coventry City down the river, and supporters of all clubs should without doubt remind them of this throughout their now hollow forthcoming birthday “celebrations.”
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