We at the Jimmy Hill Way Campaign have noted that it is your 50th Birthday today (26/10/2017) and expect that you will be celebrating this landmark occasion, as indeed you are entitled. Enjoy your day.
Unfortunately, Coventry City supporters have had very little to celebrate since you first arrived at our football club, with the notable exception of the Checkatrade Trophy final which gave us a brief respite from the misery inflicted by almost 10 years of ownership by Sisu and over 6 years of your Directorship.
As well as being a time for celebration, such milestone birthdays ought also to provide opportunities for retrospection. We would ask you reflect on what has happened to our football club under the stewardship of Joy Seppala and yourself. To assist this process, we have provided below a list of 50 features of your time at Coventry City, one for each year of your life. Sadly, there are many other matters that we could have added but 50 is ample. While not all of these points are your direct responsibility, they have all happened on your watch and the buck stops with you. It is inconceivable to us that you can imagine that your record at our club represents anything other than abject failure.
Therefore, when you have considered these points, you may also like to think about your personal future. 50 is the age at which people can start drawing upon their pension funds, if they are fortunate enough to have such facilities, so we would urge you to take the opportunity for immediate retirement from the role of Chairman & Director of Coventry City.
IT’S YOUR BIG FIVE-0 ….. IT’S TIME TO GO!
The Jimmy Hill Way Campaign
THE 50 FAILINGS OF TIMOTHY FISHER AT COVENTRY CITY
One Lost Season
Arguably, the 12 months at Sixfields was the darkest period in the history of our club. You uprooted the club from the City of Coventry, against the wishes and pleadings of the vast majority of fans. Your stated aims of attendances between 3,000 and 7,000 were proved to be woefully inaccurate, sometimes the crowd struggled to make it to 4 figures. This strategic misjudgment almost killed our club and the damage you caused persists to this day.
Count – 1 Season Lost.
When you took up your position at Coventry City, it was a Championship Club and fans still had hopes for a return to the Premier League, based on promises made by Sisu and your predecessors in the Board Room. Those hopes were quickly dashed as you set off on a path of destruction and the first major disaster was relegation to League One in 2012.
In the following 5 years, there were only two brief periods when we thought that escape back to the Championship might be possible, first under Mark Robins’ initial period as manager and then in the early months of Tony Mowbray’s full season in charge. Unfortunately, these were shown to be false hopes and we sunk into League 2 – the Fourth Division – in April 2017.
Count – 2 Relegations; Cumulative 3 Failures.
Loss of Permanent Tenancy and Purchase Option at the Ricoh
Following relegation in 2012, the rent strike that you initiated in an attempt to strong-arm ACL and the Council into a better deal was a distasteful and doomed policy. It led to the loss of proper tenancy arrangements at that magnificent stadium and when we did return it was relatively short-term as day-hirers on the cheap. Even worse, it created the opportunity for Wasps to seize the initiative and buy ACL and the stadium lease so that the Football Club have lost any chance of ever owning a share in the Arena that was built for it. As the temporary agreement at the Ricoh comes to an end in just 15 more League games, we once again face the prospect of homelessness.
Count – 2 Property Opportunities Wasted; Cumulative 5 Failures.
New Ground Not Delivered
When we left the Ricoh in 2013, you promised that the move to Northampton would be temporary while CCFC developed a new ground in the Coventry Area. In more than 4 years that have followed, you have never even identified a site on which such a development could take place, despite promises to supporters in 2014 that an announcement of a site was imminent. Recently, you have played up the possibility of a ground share with Coventry Rugby Club at Butts Park, a proposal that remains entirely unconvincing given the weight of evidence to the contrary.
Count – 1 Non-existent Ground; Cumulative 6 Failures.
Loss of Long-term Academy Facility at Allard Way
Of course, the fantasy stadium was going to encompass Training and Academy facilities as well as match-day experiences. Somehow, the Board at CCFC seemed to believe this plan to the extent that the contract for the Academy at Allard Way was not renewed, once again allowing Wasps to take possession and putting this prized asset at extreme risk. As things stand, the Academy only has a few months left at this site and it was fortunate that it obtained a stay from eviction in June 2017. In addition, the Training Ground has a metaphorical “for sale” sign hanging over it, although that situation has not yet come to pass.
Count – 1 Academy Site at Risk; Cumulative 7 Failures.
Departed Directors / Senior Management
As I said in the covering letter, you are not solely responsible for this tale of woe but as Chairman and formerly Chief Executive, you are in the hot seat. During your period at the helm of Coventry City, the following Directors and Senior Personnel have come and gone: Mark Labovitch, Steve Brookfield, Steve Waggott, Chris Anderson and Mark Venus. Onye Igwe and John Clarke also left during your time in charge, though they were already on the Board when you were appointed. It is incredible that you, the Chief Architect of Coventry City’s demise, have remained when all these colleagues have left the scene.
Count – 7 Ex Directors; Cumulative 14 Failures.
Managerial Sackings and Resignations
Performances on the pitch are not down to you, at least you haven’t tried to manage the team like Ken Dulieu. But you do hire and fire the people who have responsibility for playing matters, so there is a burden of blame that you must share when things have gone so poorly over the past 6 seasons. Mark Robins has gone and come back. Andy Thorn, Steven Pressley, Tony Mowbray, Mark Venus and Russell Slade have all come and gone during the time that we have fallen out of the Championship to lying outside of the play-off spots in League Two, the lowest level in the proud history of the Sky Blues. Your recruitment of football managers and/or your failure to support these key personnel adequately is a sad indictment.
Count – 6 Former Managers; Cumulative 20 Failures.
Depletion of the Playing Squad
Let it be stressed, we are not expressing an opinion about any individual player that Coventry City currently has at its disposal, just the overall quality of the playing squad has diminished year on year during your tenure as Chairman (with a short-lived uplift under Tony Mowbray) to the point that we now languish in the basement division of the Football League.
When we look back at the quality of players that have left the club during your time as a Director, it is striking how many would walk into the current squad and radically improve our chances of promotion. It is a fact of life that players move on, either by choice or because their current club wants to cash in, or they are seen as surplus to requirements. However, clubs with even modest ambition will ensure that departing players are replaced with others of at least equal potential, yet that has not been the case at Coventry City. In fact, when promotion has briefly seemed a possibility in recent seasons, the club has actively disinvested rather than backing the manager financially.
There is a long list of candidates that have gone, where replacements have not been of similar standard. Richard Keogh, Martin Cranie, Joe Murphy, Blair Adams, John Fleck, Carl Baker, Frank Moussa, Leon Clarke, Jim O’Brien, Aaron Martin and Romain Vincelot all got mentions when we considered this subject. Bassala Sambou, Courtney Baker-Richardson, Cian Harries and Charlie McCann collectively had barely any first team experience but these talented Academy products are now plying their trade with Premier League clubs.
The players that make our list representing serious depletion of the squad are 5 home grown youngsters who have been sold or released to the benefit of higher-placed clubs after making a first team impact at Coventry City: George Thomas (Leicester City), James Maddison (Norwich City), Callum Wilson (AFC Bournemouth), Cyrus Christie (Middlesborough) and Gael Bigirimana (Motherwell). None of these has been adequately replaced in our view and where transfer fees have been involved, there is little sign that this has been re-invested effectively in the playing squad.
Count – 5 Home Grown Players, departed but not adequately replaced; Cumulative 25 Failures.
Upset by Upstarts
When Coventry City were competing with and sometimes beating Premier League giants such as Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, a number of the clubs that currently reside in the lower divisions of the EFL were non-league entities. 16 years on from our first fall from grace, we now face several of those emergent teams. They are in the Football League on merit but I’m sure would still consider themselves to be minnows compared to those PL clubs who we so recently considered to be our peers.
Coventry City on the other hand are in the Fourth Division on de-merit resulting from incompetent direction from the Boardroom and Owners.
So far this season, we have failed to score against, let alone beat Accrington Stanley, Barnet, Forest Green, Newport County and Yeovil, taking just 1 point out of 15 from those games with a combined negative goal tally of 5 – 0 … how appropriate a statistic for your 50th Birthday! All due credit to those 5 teams, the problem is us not them. This really is a perfect illustration of how far this football club has fallen under your tenure.
We’ve resisted the temptation to count the total humiliation suffered in the 2014 FA Cup exit at home to Worcester City, possibly the worst performance that I have witnessed in over 40 years of watching the Sky Blues.
Count – 5 embarrassing results; Cumulative 30 Failures.
The average home attendance for the first 8 games of this current season is just 7,715 supporters. The equivalent figure for the last 8 games played in the Championship was 15,949 attending. This reduction in headcount represents a loss of 8,000 supporters during your tenure, ie 50% of the attendance before you took over.
Many longstanding City fans, including the leading figures in the JHW Campaign, decided that Enough Is Enough following relegation in April. Season Tickets have not been renewed and previously regular attenders are now going to away matches only. Many more reached that conclusion in previous seasons during your reign.
Count – 8 thousand supporters lost; Cumulative 38 Failures
Accounts Filing Non-Compliance
It is an EFL regulation that Football Clubs must comply with the requirement of Companies House to file their Statutory Accounts on time. When CCFC failed to meet that deadline, the club was served a transfer embargo. Subsequently, the original Coventry City Football Club Limited and Coventry City Football Club (Holdings) Limited were liquidated and this avoided the filing and publication of accounts for the final year of their operation. Initially this was met with a transfer embargo, worse punishment was to come.
Count – 2 sets of accounts not filed; Cumulative 40 Failures.
We all recall the dreadful moment in March 2013 when our Football Club entered Administration, casting a doubt over its long-term future and a chain of other consequences. The most immediate impact was a 10-point deduction for 2012/13 and this was followed by a second penalty of the same value for 2013/14 as the club remained under the control of the Administrators.
Count – 2 x 10 Points Deductions; Cumulative 42 Failures.
Disastrous Communication with Fans
We hardly know where to start on this topic. It could be summed up by saying that your communication to Sky Blues fans has appeared aggressive, insulting and misleading to the point where it is difficult for many supporters to believe a word you say. Here are just a few examples of your communication problems:
- Threatening to remove various precious items from the Ricoh Site, including Jimmy Hill’s statue and the bricks from the Commemorative Wall;
- Originally telling fans in June 2013 that ground share options would be in the West Midlands before the actual location was revealed to be the East Midlands town of Northampton;
- Omitting to tell supporters of the intention to have Ryton Training Ground listed in the Rugby Borough Council plan for housing development, the story was uncovered by the Coventry Telegraph;
- Questions submitted by members of the Jimmy Hill Way Group via the SCG to be answered by you were doctored before publication on the club website, so that misleading or incomplete answers could be given;
- Regular attacks on the Sky Blue Trust and other fan groups or individuals who stand up to you or Sisu.
As a result of these communication nightmares, your credibility and relationship with the majority of fans is zero.
Count – 1 Continual Communication Crisis; Cumulative 43 Failures.
Other Broken or Strained Relationships
The relationships with a number of key partners in the City of Coventry have been severely strained and are in some cases broken. Three particular situations stand out:
- Due to the Rent Strike which you personally engineered, the relationships with Arena Coventry Limited and its joint shareholders, Coventry City Council and the Alan Higgs Charity were pushed down a slippery slope which set CCFC (Otium + SBS&L) against these former partners in the law courts where the battle continues. It is almost impossible to envisage how good relationships could ever be restored with the respondents.
- While I have no doubt that it is Sisu, not the football club, who are driving the 2nd Judicial Review, it is Otium and SBS&L who are the named claimants in this case. The football club is now dragging Wasps into the mire and this threatens a renewal of playing arrangements for CCFC at the Ricoh.
- Coventry Telegraph launched a petition calling upon Sisu to Sell Up and Go by putting Coventry City up for sale. The reaction from the football club was to close down access for the leading news source in the city to the manager, players and staff of the Sky Blues.
Count – 3 sets of Relationships Broken or Strained; Cumulative 46 Failures.
Dismantling of Supporters Consultative Group
Initially established by Paul Fletcher based on an initiative by the Sky Blue Trust, the Supporters Consultative Group had been gradually degraded from a watchdog, enabling supporters interests to be voiced and addressed, to a lapdog that was unfit for purpose and in need of serious overhaul.
It was unilaterally disbanded in December 2016 and 10 months later there has been no proposal for a replacement model to meet the EFL guidelines, leaving Supporters with no formal channel through which to express their concerns.
Count – 1 Loss of Supporter Engagement Channel; Cumulative 47 Failures.
The Strategic Planning Document
Launched with much ado, your 5-point vision for returning Coventry City to the path of recovery seems to have come to nothing, disappearing without trace. Even your former loyal Communications Manager, Keiren Crowley, is known to have poured scorn on this waste of paper. Hardly surprising then, that none of us can remember much of the detail or find a copy. We’re fairly certain that little or nothing of value has been achieved under your leadership, as the club appears to have no strategy other than limping from one disaster to the next.
Count – 1 Plan 0 Action; Cumulative 48 Failures.
Financial Situation of Otium
The last set of published accounts for Otium Entertainment Limited (t/a Coventry City FC) contain an unusual comment from the Auditors, BDO. The relevant section “Emphasis of matter – Going Concern” refers to a ‘material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt over the company’s ability to continue as a going concern’.
This reflects the requirement for additional funding as indicated by the Company’s cash flow forecasts which is reliant on a non-contractual undertaking from Sisu / Arvo to provide financial support and not to demand repayment of existing debt.
The club continued to sustain substantial losses after taxation (32% of Turnover) and the level of debt due to Arvo (£12.45m) and the Balance Sheet deficit (£14.6m) had both increased again as a result. Despite all the cost cutting under your stewardship which has reduced the club to a skeletal organisation, the financial position continues to decline, albeit at a reduced rate. However, these figures are now 17 months old so the position will have changed, probably for the worse with reduced attendances and income in League Two.
If, at any time, Sisu decided to withdraw their support then the concerns expressed by the auditors would become very real. Having been through Administration and its consequences in 2013, supporters would be horrified by a repeat occurrence.
Count – 1 parlous financial situation; Cumulative 49 Failures.
Inability to Attract Major Sponsorship and Investment
On your original appointment to the Board of Coventry City at the same time as Mark Labovitch (not the most auspicious day in the history of the Sky Blues!) the then Chairman, Ken Dulieu said: “Tim and Mark both have a wealth of experience in business and finance and both have worked with sport and leisure companies. It is no secret that we are talking to investors and want to attract funding to the club. That will be one key role for Tim and Mark.”
Well, how has that one key role gone for you Tim? It appears that this was your initial priority task at Coventry City and certainly ought to have been a prime objective during your periods as both CEO and Chairman. A team that can take around 42,000 supporters to Wembley for the Checkatrade Trophy Final ought to be a great vehicle for sponsors and potential investors. Yet the negative reputation that you, Joy Seppala and Sisu have created around this great football club will continue to make fundraising difficult until you decide to do the right thing and leave Coventry City for decent owners and competent directors to re-build.
Count – 1 unfulfilled objective to improve finances; Cumulative 50 Failures.
There were so many other points that we could have included on this list but I think we’ve already made the point effectively. Your BIG FIVE - 0 really is TIME TO GO, TIM …. certainly, well before your next birthday please.