It may feel a little as if there is a yawning chasm of a summer ahead of us, but there are actually only eight weeks left now until the start of the new season in the Football League. Bearing this in mind, it is understandable that supporters of Coventry City Football Club may be starting to wonder whether their team will actually be able to begin next season at the moment. The club remains in administration and homeless for the time being, with its likelihood of returning to The Ricoh Arena currently standing at next to zero and the public face of SISU, the hedge fund that had been running the club since 2008 until it entered into administration towards the end of last season, insisting that the club is not for sale even though, well, it seems to be at present.
Said spokesman, Tim Fisher, was present at a public meeting held in Coventry last night a which the club’s predicament was discussed but, perhaps predictably, considering how convoluted anything relating to this club has become over the last year or so, those present or listening in through BBC Coventry & Warwickshire’s live coverage of the event probably came away from it all with little greater understanding of what is going on at the club other than that, no matter what their motives are for doing so, SISU seem likely to be hanging around for some time to come. Indeed, that his responses to questions from the audience were so unsatisfactory was entirely appropriate, considering the way that the club has been run on his watch.
Throughout the forum, Fisher seemed keen to iterate and reiterate that the club is not for sale, all of which may come as something of a surprise to the administrator Paul Appleton, who has recently confirmed that he received two bids for the club prior to the deadline for them to be received. The first comes from the American investor Preston Haskell IV, and involves his group buying out SISU and taking a fifty per cent shareholding in The Ricoh Arena itself. The second comes from a group of investors from Asia – it has been reported that they are from Singapore, Malaysia and China – and is fronted, at the moment, by a quantity surveyor called Michael Byng, which also wishes to take a fifty per cent ownership in the club.
This followed an interim report into the club by its administrator which was disappointingly opaque in terms of its ability to untangle the byzantine nature of its affairs. It offered no conclusion over whether the ‘golden share’ in the club – which serves as the club’s entry pass to play in the Football League in the first place – rested with Coventry City Football Club Limited before it was placed into administration, and stated that it was likely that he would have to go to court to get this particular matter resolved. This confusion, of course, will only serve to hold up any possible sale of the club. Why, after all, would anybody invest millions of pounds in buying Coventry City Football Club Limited with no guarantee of exactly what it was that they are buying?
Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick. Fisher states that the club has identified two sites and has already expecting to sign a deal in the next three weeks or so. The identify of these sites hasn’t been made public – not making genuinely useful information public has become a reasonably consistent SISU trait in recent times – but the most talked up location for a new stadium, the current home of the Coventry Bees speedway team, has been suggested by some to be a wholly unsuitable site for reasons of access and relocating its current tenants, who have a lengthy lease to use the facility. It has also been claimed by HMRC that the stadium could not be sold as it was a “frozen asset” on account of a dispute with a creditor who they claimed had shares in the stadium, even though its owner insists that he is its sole owner.
There is also the small matter of where the club will play next season. Fisher claims to have a list of three ground-share arrangements that the Football League has stated that they would approve, all of which are within a thirty mile radius of Coventry itself (which doesn’t seem like an admission to crow about), but the generally accepted truth is now that if the club is to completely throw its toys out of the pram and leave The Ricoh Arena its home for the next three years would be Walsall’s Banks Stadium, but this is understandably not popular amongst Coventry supporters, and it is likely that the club’s support next season would drop significantly with such a move, likely by more than fifty per cent from the sort of crowds that it attracted last season.
In response to this, the club is attempting to tempt season ticket holders to make that inconvenient journey for every home match with discounts. “That goodwill is to say thank you to supporters for travelling, it will include reduced prices, it will have incentives and multi-year incentives in some cases,” said Fisher, but how is the club supposed to have any chance of remaining competitive next season on considerably smaller crowds and with those that do decide to buy season tickets paying less than they would have done otherwise? The answer to this, of course, would be to stay at The Ricoh Arena, but Fisher insists that “The Council have made it absolutely crystal clear there is no deal to be done with SISU,” although it is worth pointing out that he adds that, “They would only ever deal with the administrator,” which puts a slightly different angle on it all. Coventry City Football Club Ltd is in administration. Although there remains a degree of confusion over where the Golden Share rests, if there is any consensus on this subject it is that CCFC Ltd is, for the want of a better phrase, “the club.” In that case, ACL certainly should only be dealing with the administrator.
In the meantime, the Coventry Telegraph last month started a petition to keep the club in the city itself, and this can be seen – and indeed signed – by clicking here. It has, at the time of writing, managed 10,700 signatures which surely sends out a clear message that the club’s supporters haven’t given up on it yet. Otherwise, though, the clock is ticking relentlessly before the start of the new season and there seems to have been little to no movement in terms of establishing how Coventry City FC can be pulled back from the brink. The ideal solution would be for SISU to cut their losses and walk away, and for a new consortium of owners and investors to work with ACL towards moving the club back to The Ricoh Arena and the club’s supporters trust to rebuild the bridges burned by the bullishness of SISU during their time running the club. For the time being, however, it is difficult to envisage anything but an immediate future of sixty mile round trips for home matches, diminished support and revenue, and further decline for Coventry City.
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