After months of waiting, the outcome of the Appeal Court case on whether Sisu, the owners of Coventry City Football Club, should be granted a Judicial Review into the sale of the Ricoh Arena has been announced. This upholds the previous decision in the High Court which denied the application.
The details of this case will be widely reported in the local media, so for the sake of brevity I will not rehash them here, except to recap that the main protagonists are: a) Sisu Capital in the guise of Sky Blue Sports & Leisure Limited and Otium Entertainment Limited, which are the business entities controlling and encapsulating Coventry City Football Club; b) Coventry City Council; c) Wasps Rugby Club.
On past evidence, Joy Seppala, the boss of Sisu, will now be exploring any opportunities to pursue this case further with her legal team. Given the record of failure so far in this Judicial Review (“JR2”) which has been largely procedural rather than substantive arguments, together with the losses incurred in the previous Judicial Review against Coventry City Council and the Alan Higgs Charity, surely it is time for Seppala to cut her losses? Not only is it costing her hedge-fund a small fortune in legal fees, the reputational damage, both for Sisu and her personally, is enormous. Please Joy: Stop Embarrassing Yourself and your Company! More importantly, please stop embarrassing and harming Coventry City Football Club.
When an extension for City to continue playing for the 2018/19 season at the Ricoh, where Wasps are the Landlord, was announced earlier this year by Wasps Chief Executive, Nick Eastwood, he made it plain that there would be no further extension if the court proceedings against his organisation were continued. There seems no reason not to take that statement at face value and therefore the pursuit of JR2 by Sisu has placed the future of Coventry City FC at extreme jeopardy.
The Football Club Chairman, Tim Fisher, has tried to distance the club from the legal dispute by stating in a recent interview on Sky TV that CCFC has “no interest” in the court case. Unfortunately, like many of his claims this rings hollow, as the fact remains that Otium Entertainment, which is the legal embodiment of the football club, has been a direct participant in the litigation. It is hardly surprising, therefore that Wasps as Landlords would not be inclined to extend their relationship with a Tenant who is suing them, with the apparent intention to ruin the Landlord’s business by seeking damages in multi-millions of pounds. Human nature will inevitably make a future working relationship between Wasps and Coventry City very difficult or, most likely, impossible to achieve if Sisu try to take this case to the next level, presumable the Supreme Court. Even if the proceedings are now dropped, it could be extremely awkward for future relationships between Wasps and CCFC, while Sisu remain in control of the football club.
The key problem for supporters of Coventry City Football Club is that the Sky Blues do not have time on our side. The football club has less than seven months left on its Agreement to play at the Ricoh Arena. After tomorrow’s game against Wycombe Wanderers, that will be just 16 League games left to play in the home that was originally built for CCFC.
In the same Sky interview, Fisher said that “Plan A” is and always has been for the football club to remain playing at the Ricoh. Well most of us remember a previous “Plan A” where Coventry City would be playing at its own new-build stadium and subsequently that “Plan A” would be a ground-share at Butts Park Arena with Coventry Rugby Club. I think we can conclude from Mr Fisher’s latest pronouncement and yesterday's statement on the club website, that it’s not Plan A, it’s actually the only option available to the Sky Blues; an option that has been placed under severe threat by the club owners, Sisu, in their pursuance of legal action, which could spell an end to the very existence of Coventry City, if no suitable ground is available for the team to play home games.
A suitable ground not only requires adequate facilities, it also needs to be acceptable to the EFL and to Sky Blues supporters. The experience of the move to Sixfields, when Coventry City ground-shared with Northampton Town in 2013/14, cannot be repeated. Many supporters will not tolerate a move out of the City of Coventry, even if another club was prepared to enter into a ground-share arrangement. The past record of the club’s relationships with third parties under Sisu’s tenure may make others very wary of dealing with CCFC.
If they decide to continue with legal action, Sisu have an apparent conflict of interest in this situation. On the one hand, Joy Seppala is obliged to act in the best interests of investors in the hedge-fund that she runs with Dermott Coleman. At the same time, she has an obligation to protect and further the interests of Coventry City Football Club and its supporters and not to act in a manner that is directly or indirectly harmful to the club. Continuing JR2 may be considered by Seppala to be the right course of action for Sisu’s investors, but that would be contrary to the well-being of the Sky Blues because of the threat it would pose to the Ricoh tenancy.
The only solution to this conflict of interest is to take Coventry City out of the firing line. Previous pleas from supporters’ groups to Sisu to drop the action for the sake of the club have fallen on deaf ears, so it appears likely that Seppala is determined to go on to the bitter end. Two attempts to resolve the dispute via mediation (one set in motion by Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch and the second ordered by the Court of Appeal) have both failed.
With the clock ticking on Coventry City’s future at the Ricoh and possibly on its entire existence because of JR2, it is time for Sisu to relinquish control of the Sky Blues before it is too late. We believe that is true whether JR2 is dropped or continued. Therefore, we call upon Joy Seppala to sell the club for a realistic price, to people who can achieve a brighter future for Coventry City and its supporters.
Gary Hoffman, a former Director of CCFC, and his consortium have previously made offers to takeover the club and we hope that Ms Seppala will now engage in urgent and meaningful discussions to enable this acquisition. Under new ownership, we feel optimistic that Wasps would feel disposed to extend playing arrangements at the Ricoh which they do not currently seem disposed to offer to the club. If the consequence of Sisu’s actions leaves CCFC homeless once again, the value of that asset to Seppala’s investors will be diminished massively.
At the same time, we appeal to Nick Eastwood and the other decision makers at Wasps to remember that it is the fans of Coventry City who will be the biggest losers if our football team can’t continue playing at the Ricoh. Your position regarding Sisu and not wishing to continue a relationship with the football club, while they are involved, is understandable. Whilst hoping to be proved wrong, it seems to us that Sisu care little for the interests of the club and its supporters, so by depriving the club of a home you will only hurt the fans and those employed by the club, not your real enemy.
We must be hopeful that following today’s announcement, Joy Seppala will now recognise that JR2 is a lost cause and will bring this matter to a conclusion, for the sake of our club. If she continues with litigation, the prospects right now seem very bleak for Coventry City Football Club. In fact, it is entirely possible that the only real beneficiaries, whenever this litigation is finally at an end, will be the highly-paid lawyers representing all parties. It seems that for them, Sisu are the gift that keeps on giving.
The Jimmy Hill Way Campaign