Matches in the Third Round of The FA Cup frequently draw attendances that are lower than they would be otherwise. The simple fact that tickets are not usually provided as part of annual season tickets combined with the possibility of people feeling the pinch in the weeks after Christmas is usually enough to keep many away. At one of the weekends matches, however, there was more to the paucity of the crowd present than met the eye. Coventry City have had a disastrous season so far, rooted to the bottom of the Championship table and with considerable unrest amongst the clubs support at the direction the the clubs management has been taking.
Storm clouds have been gathering over The Ricoh Arena since before the start of this season, with a state of unresolved conflict now seeming to exist between SISU, the group that owns the club, and an increasingly vocal element of the clubs support. An eighteenth place finish in the table at the end of last season hinted at the possibility of difficulties to come this season, and the team has certainly lived down to expectations, with recent victoriess against Bristol City and Brighton ending a run of eleven league games without a win. An attempted take-over by former Northern Rock chairman and Coventry supporter Gary Hoffman failed during the summer, whilst manager Andy Thorn was been unable to arrest the team’s decline on the pitch.
On Saturday, the newly-formed Save Our City held its first protest at the clubs ground. Originally, it had been hoped that a complete boycott of the match might be achieved but, after many that wished to protest expressed a preference for watching the match as well, this was changed to a protest outside the ground lasting until fifteen minutes after kick-off, although many stayed outside for the whole of the match and many others did boycott altogether. Around three hundred people turned out for the protest, and the group now hopes to turn its attentions to an away league match at Reading next month, where it is hoped that a large away follo wing will demonstrate that there is still interest in the club whilst affirming support for the team.
One curiosity to emerge from Saturday’s match – which ended, perhaps unsurprisingly, in a 2-1 win for Southampton – was the crowd figure released by the club. An attendance of exactly 9,000 was reported for the match, but this was greeted with surprise by supporters of both clubs that were at the match on Saturday afternoon, who have estimated the crowd for this match to have been considerably lower than that which was reported. Gate receipts for FA Cup matches are split, with 10% going to the FA and 45% going to the away club. Now, there is no suggestion that Coventry City were attempting to defraud anybody – and it is worth bearing in mind that the way that crowd figures is calculated varies from club to club and that the figures upon which money from gate-sharing revenue is highly unlikely to have anything to do with attendances figures as reported in the press – but some have certainly wondered aloud whether it is possible that SISU overstated the size of the crowd for Saturday’s match in an attempt to discredit the protests against them.
There are a couple of problems with this theory. Firstly, that the crowd figure announced turned out to be a round number could easily be explained as a coincidence, and it might also be noted that if the club did wish to discredit those that protested against them, they might easily have picked a number that would stand out less to those looking in from the outside. Secondly, with the number of people attending the protest running only into the hundreds and this being an FA Cup match that was always likely to attract a smaller crowd than for a league match, what actual benefit SISU would see from such behaviour is questionable, to say the least.
None of this, however, lets SISU off the hook in a broader sense, in so far as their record at Coventry City is concerned. The days of the club being one of the longest-serving members of the top flight in English football are fast becoming a distant memory, but over the last twenty-two years Coventry have only finished above half-way up the league table – of whatever division they have been in – on three occasions in the last twenty-two years. It is, perhaps, understandable that supporters may hope for, at the very least, a season that isn’t a write-off by the time that the clocks go back. Against such a modest background of achievement on the pitch over such a lengthy period of time, it is perhaps unsurprising that supporter patience with further false dawns and decline has been completely worn away. If the club falls out of the top two divisions for the first time since 1964, then they can only be regarded as having failed dismally, even by the modest standards of a club that has hardly been used to unbroken success in recent years.
As such, it seems likely that the protests at The Ricoh Arena will continue for the foreseeable future. We read much of the expectations of football supporters and how unreasonable they can be. In the case of Coventry City Football Club, however, it feels as if the rot has set inat the club could be reversible with the right level of investment and the right personnel being brought in. If personal differences are what is preventing the club from reaching anything like its potential, then either those should be set aside, or those running the club should pass the responsibility for it over to people hat can provide the tools required to get it back upon its feet. At the moment, it feels as if Coventry City is slipping away, quietly and without anybody really noticing. Small wonder, then, that the supporters are trying to get what is happening noticed before it is too late.
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