Understandably, Coventry City fans are getting excited about our prospects for the remainder of this season. An historic win at the Ricoh completing the double against Swindon Town put the Sky Blues back into the play-off zone and continued a decent run of home form. Tomorrow almost 8,000 of us will travel to MK Dons for a 4th round FA Cup tie which is certainly winnable, as our opponents struggle at the foot of League One. There is no doubt that City are shaping up well and all supporters are entitled to enjoy the good times, we’ve suffered far more than our fair share of the opposite.
In that regard, I’m no different to any other City fan. While I’m certainly not getting carried away by 6th place in Division 4 and I have no illusions about a repeat of 1987 in the FA Cup, the prospect of a Top 6 finish in ANY division is such a rarity in the history of Coventry City that few supporters younger than 50 will remember it actually being achieved. A bit like the Checkatrade Trophy win, it’s a consolation prize but we can still take enormous pleasure if it does come to pass. A win tomorrow could bring a glamour tie in the 5th round, maybe somewhere like the Olympic Stadium against West Ham, which would make for a terrific day out and a better allocation than we received for Stadium MK.
Yet we should not let this modicum of success lull us into a false sense of security. Today (26th January) marks 100 days from the end of the regular League Two season which will conclude with a home game versus Morecambe on 5th May. Assuming that CCFC are not involved in the play-offs, hopefully due to automatic promotion rather than finishing 8th or worse, that could be the last game at the Ricoh Arena.
Despite a commitment by Dave Boddy, Chief Executive of the club, that fans would hear by Christmas 2017 where we would be playing home games next season, we are still in the dark. He later amended that statement to say that an announcement would be “imminent”. 5 weeks have now passed without further comment from Mr Boddy or anyone else representing the club, so the term “imminent” seems to have been overly optimistic to say the least.
Having made these previous statements, it is my opinion that supporters are entitled to an explanation for why nothing has been forthcoming. Are discussions ongoing? Is there some financial, legal or governance hitch (eg sanction to the terms of the deal awaited from the EFL) that they are working to resolve? Unforeseen problems occur in all walks of life but it is poor communication to flag up a pending announcement of a deal and then leave supporters wondering why the news hasn’t been delivered.
What could be the cause of this delay? This is only conjecture on my part but I think this theory has plausible logic, if no absolute evidence.
- In November 2017, when Dave Boddy indicated that a deal should be announced by Christmas, if not sooner, an agreement in principle may have been reached between CCFC and Wasps for the Sky Blues to continue playing at the Ricoh, at least for 2018/19, subject to i dotting and t crossing. It would have been premature to say as much he did, unless that point had been reached, either to play at the Ricoh or elsewhere.
- On 28th November, the Court of Appeal judges instructed the various parties involved in the Judicial Review process to engage in a mediation process. This includes CCFC and Wasps along with Sisu and Coventry City Council.
- At that point, either Wasps or Sisu (possibly both) may have decided that a binding agreement should not be reached on playing arrangements for Coventry City at the Ricoh, in isolation from all the other elements of the dispute that would have to be discussed within the mediation process. Indeed, it is implicit in the Judges’ instruction that all issues should be able to be resolved within a successful mediation process. Therefore, the negotiations between Wasps and CCFC may have been parked, at least until mediation is completed, the proposed deadline for this being 28th March 2018 and commencing with the appointment of a mediator by 2nd February.
Of course, there are other possible reasons for the deferred announcement. But why not tell supporters what is causing the hold up? If my supposition is correct, then we will have several more weeks to wait: by 28th March there will be just 39 days left of this season and just 3 games to play at the Ricoh. What happens then if mediation has not been successful? There is no certainty that it will produce an acceptable outcome for any/all parties and that outcome may derail any draft agreement for the Ricoh.
Let us consider the position of the EFL in this process. They will surely not want to see a repetition of 2013 when they were faced with the unpalatable choice of permitting the move to Northampton and transferring the golden share to Otium or at the 11th hour being a team short in League One. They received justifiable criticism from many quarters, not just from Sky Blues fans, for their failure to ensure better outcomes at that time. That is an embarrassment that I feel certain they won’t wish to suffer again. If for no other reason, those charged with governance of the League will be pushing Coventry City to produce an early and acceptable answer to the question of where they play home fixtures after May 2018. The EFL may be prepared to wait until the end of March, perhaps even until the end of the season. I doubt very much that they will allow the question to go unanswered beyond then as there is a 2018/19 fixture list to be compiled and published, one that may not include a homeless Coventry City FC.
If a deal can be concluded for Coventry City to continue playing at the Ricoh, then all will be well for now, though we may face this uncertainty once again if it is not a long-term arrangement. The alternative if no deal is reached would present a serious crisis. Despite earlier claims by Club Chairman, Tim Fisher, that a groundshare at Butts Park Arena was a possibility, that has been firmly kicked into touch by his opposite number, Jon Sharpe, at Coventry Rugby when stating that the rugby club will not have dealings with Sisu while it remains in conflict with the City of Coventry. In any case, the current infrastructure in and around BPA would not be capable of hosting the crowd numbers that Coventry City require to be sustainable and planning issues would be major obstacles.
I am unaware of any other vaguely credible suggestion for a ground within the confines of Coventry. So where would that take our football club? Liberty Way, Nuneaton? The New Windmill Ground, home of the Brakes near Leamington? A return to Northampton or a tenancy at Walsall? None of these or any other proposals are acceptable to my mind and I anticipate that most City fans would feel the same.
The difference between now and 2013 is that I doubt there would be much fight left amongst Sky Blues fans to contest a move away from the Ricoh. Even during the Sixfields era, very few of us were consistently active in the protests that contributed to the return to the Ricoh in September 2014. Most people just didn’t go to Northampton, whether they considered they were boycotting or just didn’t have the ability or enthusiasm to make the trip. Whatever the reason, their absence created financial pressure that brought us home, yet a significant number have never returned to the ranks of the Sky Blue Army. A second move out of Coventry would sound the death knell for the Sky Blues in my opinion.
It is not just playing arrangements that are uncertain. The short-term extension for the Academy to operate at Allard Way is coming to an end within a few weeks. The success of this facility has made a vital contribution to Coventry City’s team over the past 5 seasons and a been major benefit to financial viability due to transfer fees for the likes of Callum Wilson and James Maddison. With Wasps no longer interested in the site, a deal should be achievable but the concern will remain until we get confirmation that it is secured.
Then there is Ryton Training Ground where a planning process is in motion. While there is some way to go before this location could be made available for housing development, it is a very real threat for the future.
Therefore, while I look forward to the next 100 days that could lead to promotion and maybe one or two more FA Cup ties to follow MK Dons, I am also conscious that we could be witnessing the final 100 days of Coventry City Football Club. Until firm arrangements for the future are agreed at the Ricoh, preferably a long-term solution so that we don’t have to suffer this uncertainty every year or two, that anxiety will grow by the day.
I plead with Dave Boddy to explain, at the very least, what has happened to delay the “imminent” announcement of next season’s playing facilities. Be honest with us, it is the least that the fans deserve.
In the meantime, let’s have a great day and result at MK Dons and a win on Tuesday against Cambridge. If Mark Robins can find a decent striker before the transfer window closes next week, that will aid the promotion push and lift the mood of supporters further. Enjoy these good times, at the same time City supporters need to be wary of what the future holds and press for answers and solutions from the club owners, directors and executives.
The Jimmy Hill Way Campaign