The mood among many Coventry supporters is not Sky Blue but black – a threadbare squad, no league wins, a humiliation in the EFL cup, an impasse on the future of the clubs vital Academy, no progress on talks about staying at the Ricoh, the seeming dead-end of the proposed move to the Butts, yet another hollow statement about an alternative stadium site, is it any wonder that fans are voicing their frustrations by direct action?
This once proud club has under SISU’s ownership slipped down the leagues and currently lies in the relegation zone of the Third Division. Tuesday’s cup humiliation against Norwich’s reserve team show just how far we have fallen and emphasised the gulf between similar sized clubs. One has owners who care and invest and one has owners who are dispassionate and selfish. Young players have been developed, only to be sold, allegedly for millions, yet there are little or no signs of any real investment on the pitch. Supporters are constantly being told that we have a competitive budget yet the evidence on the field and of the lack of quality and depth in the current squad seems to point at something different.
A litany of broken promises, empty rhetoric and abject failure both on and off the pitch is SISU’s legacy. A legacy that has led to the loss of any possibility of ownership of the Ricoh, the very real prospect of having no Academy and a team that is struggling to be competitive against teams such as Fleetwood and Bury in the third tier of English football.
The emergence in recent weeks of various protest groups demanding that our owners either do more or leave are totally understandable and even laudable and, if peaceful, a good way of releasing some of the pent up frustration many feel. However protests like this are ultimately futile because for them to have any effect our owners would actually have to have some positive feelings about the club and its loyal fans. There is precious little evidence of this. It appears that to SISU Coventry City are just an irritating red entry on a spreadsheet. They appear to be more interested in paying lawyers than players. More ongoing, costly, antagonistic legal proceedings against the very people that they should be forming alliances with, not fighting futile battles with, may in some unfathomable way be good for SISU but is hurting the club badly. All those who have the power to positively affect the future of the club are alienated and at loggerheads with the club or simply refusing to get involved.
The news from the club that they were willing to start round the table discussions with Coventry Sports Foundation and Wasps about keeping the bulk of the Academy at the Higgs Centre is one small glimmer of hope but actions will speak louder than words and we still await any positive movement on that front.
The involvement of local MP’s in trying to break the impasse on the stadium situation is welcome as anything that helps put pressure on all sides to get a long term solution on this key issue can only be a good thing. The pathetic, hand washing attitude of the Football League is no surprise. They were completely impotent during the lamentable moving of the club to Northampton and their attitude now is a worrying mirror of those days.
The constant current rhetoric from the club about being “forced” out of the City is untrue, unwarranted and unsettling. It appears as if they are building up a case for moving the club out of Coventry again and the over aggressive attitude of the council is playing right into SISU’s lawyer’s hands. Superficially the “evidence” that would be presented to show that the club is being forced out is compelling and would include:
- number of sites already considered, with FL involvement but nothing suitable
- CCC blocking proposed partnership at new site in city that FL liked
- Current landlord not willing to engage in talks
- CCC policy favouring Rugby and swimming
- CCC not dealing with club because of legal matters going on that are not the clubs
- unable to negotiate longer Academy deal because of council connected management company
- a perceived conspiracy against the club
Whilst it wouldn’t take much work to pick apart these alarmist headlines and expose the truth we know from bitter experience that the Football League are ineffective and will take everything the club tell them at face value. They will not dig down to find the reality behind these statements and show them up to be hollow and baseless. All they care about is getting fixtures fulfilled and certainly wouldn’t want to risk upsetting SISU’s lawyers. To the Football League not caring about fans is standard practice but costly legal cases are another matter entirely.
If this is the case then the future of the club is grim – the fans showed three years ago they would not support such a move and there is no reason to expect a different attitude today. No fans, no income, inevitable bankruptcy, closure of club, then SISU suing the council for loss of business. The legals would go on interminably while our club becomes a footnote in football history.
Again our football club is being used in a power struggle between our owners and our council. The collateral damage could well be terminal as neither side appears to actually give a damn about the club or its supporters. Whilst they threaten each other, posture and play their pathetic legal games our club is dying a slow yet increasingly inevitable death.
The Trust once again calls upon SISU to drop all the pointless, fruitless and expensive legal actions. We call upon SISU to either start proper investment in the club or put it up for sale at a price that reflects the club’s assets and without the encumbrance of the debt their inept stewardship has created. The Trust would be willing to work with SISU to develop a supporter ownership model if it would hasten their exit from our club.
We call upon the council and Wasps to commit to work with the club, whoever the owners are, once all legal actions cease and a realistic plan for the future of the club is published. The council must realise the value of a successful football club to the local economy and we would urge them to be prepared to work with the club for the good of the fans and the city.
The supporters have had their beloved club battered, abused and exploited by too many factions and the very visible current frustrations will only build unless some positive actions start happening immediately.
The Sky Blue Trust welcomes the news that Coventry City are willing to discuss, without any apparent preconditions, the future of the Club’s Academy with Coventry Sports Foundation, who run the Alan Higgs Centre, and Wasps, who are planning to build an indoor pitch at the centre.
The groundwork the Trust did, by holding discussions with the Football League and both of the potential facilities suppliers, showed that the survival of the Academy, predominately based at the Higgs, is possible but it needs all parties to work together on a collaborative plan, that can then be presented to the football authorities for approval. It may involve the inclusion of some facilities from other suppliers, such as Warwick University, who have indicated to the Trust they would be willing to discuss these with the Club but the bulk of the Academy could stay at its present site.
It now needs the Club to take the lead on this matter and get the matter resolved as soon as possible.
The involvement of Sport England, whilst welcome, is not strictly necessary, as their role is to oversee community sport in general and not really the preservation of a professional football club’s elite academy. However, if it helps get things resolved in a more timely fashion, we welcome it.
What is less welcome is the current stated attitude of Coventry City Council. Whilst their ire with the Club’s owners, SISU, over continuing costly and pointless legal wrangling is understandable, the demands for payment for costs that have not been awarded as a precondition of any co-operation are best described as unhelpful. At a time when the Trust is striving to bring all parties together to save the Academy, this attitude is unnecessary and a distraction at this delicate yet vital juncture.
The Council’s anger with the Club’s current owners is justifiable. However, one day these owners, like any owners, will move on. The Trust’s concern is, once this happens, what will be the state of the club they leave behind? The Academy is vital for this club’s survival, no matter who the owners are and it needs saving now, otherwise it could be lost forever. Those that have it in their power to facilitate this survival must co-operate and do so.
The Council is not directly involved in this process and therefore needs to stop unwelcome commentary until this matter is resolved for the good of the football club’s future survival and, thereby, for the good of its supporters.
The Trust has today written to the Chair and members of Coventry City Council's Planning committee about the planning proposals submitted by Wasps Rugby Club for facilities at the Alan Higgs Centre, currently used by the CCFC Academy.
This is the letter:
Dear Cllr Brown
The Sky Blue Trust represents 3000 Coventry City Supporters and we are writing to you as Chairman of the Planning Committee on their behalf.
You are shortly due to be making a decision on whether to grant planning permission for Wasps rugby club to build a new training facility at the Alan Higgs Centre on Allard Way and we would urge you to take the following points into consideration before making any irrevocable and potentially damaging decision.
The building of Wasps academy and specifically the indoor “kicking barn” will have a direct effect on the incumbent academy currently housed at the centre, the academy of the City’s football team, Coventry City. The barn will displace the current outdoor 3G pitch which the football club uses but also the subsequent loss of two other pitches threatens the cherished and valuable Category 2 status of the Sky Blues academy. When this is added to the much rumoured council and Coventry Sports Foundation plan to build an indoor swimming pool on the CCFC academy’s current indoor pitch it makes their position at the centre almost impossible.
The football clubs academy has produced many top class footballers from the City who have gone on to enjoy major success as professionals. The list is long and illustrious but a simple list does not convey what the academy offers to young footballers in Coventry. It is the chance to fulfil a dream, to play for their home town club, to represent their/our/your City across the globe, promoting the name of Coventry and giving themselves the chance of a career they might not otherwise have had. The academy gives youngsters across Coventry that rare commodity - hope.
Should the club lose their Category 2 status. or lose the academy all together, it would be a tragedy because the Football does not allow the establishment of these academies easily. Once lost it might never be regained and it would be the young footballers of the area and the supporters of Coventry City who would suffer. Club owners come and go but supporters will always be there and they will remember those who helped and those who hurt their football team.
The provision for the Wasps' academy directly threatens this “factory of hope” and we and our 3000 members, many of whom are also voters, urge you to reject the planning application until a proper plan is put into place for the football clubs academy to remain in its current home.
The original purpose of the Higgs Centre was to house the football clubs academy. Alan Higgs was a great patron of the club and also a true benefactor to the youth of Coventry, The academy was built for the club and also for the community. For it to be granted academy status, a decade ago, a joint delegation from the club and the Higgs Centre went to the football authorities to plead their case. After what we have been told was a close call the argument that the centre would be better serving the community and the football team swung the argument. Ironically the final decision was made by the then Aston Villa Chairman Doug Ellis to grant academy status. It was this cooperative strategy that we wish all parties to adopt again and work together to find a solution that would suit all parties.
Whilst the requirements for a football academy are spelt out in black and white by the FA and Football League as fans of Coventry City know all too well, all rules of the footballing authorities have a good deal of flexibility in them. If all the relevant parties (CCFC, Wasps, CSF) and maybe some other parties such as Coventry City Council or Warwick University work together a solution could be found. However if this planning application, in its current format is approved it will not allow sufficient time for any compromise plans to be discussed, agreed and enacted.
We therefore urge you and your fellow committee members to reject the Wasps application until a satisfactory long term solution is found for the Coventry City academy.