Highfield Road II
Even before the departure from the Ricoh, Tim Fisher was espousing the new strategy for the Sky Blues’ future home.
CCFC has “no option but to build a new venue” Tim Fisher, February 2013.
“We have started the process of procuring land so that we can shift the new stadium build forward at a pace. The stadium will be in the Coventry area in accordance with Football League rules.
“We have left the Ricoh Arena. We were told categorically by ACL and by the council [that] there is no commercial deal to be done and, in actual fact, they would only ever work with the Administrator.
“We were very, very clear in our minds as to exactly what was intended. Given the position, we have had to make contingency plans to fulfil our fixtures on an interim basis while we deliver the long-term vision.
“That long term vision has us playing in the Coventry area in a new stadium that will be designed and delivered in 3 years.” Tim Fisher, May 2013.
“If we say we’re going to build a stadium then we will. We have provided clear evidence to the League on our ability to deliver on those plans. It's not, and never will be, our intention to mislead, filibuster or posture.” Tim Fisher, August 2013
I would contend that, for the most part, all Tim has ever done at Coventry City is to “mislead, filibuster or posture”.
Then in September, Joy Seppala gave a rare interview to the Coventry Telegraph in which she was adamant about her plans. Here are the most relevant excerpts:
“Plan A is building a new stadium. There is something very exciting about building something that is a new beginning. It feels like the club is at a new beginning.”
“The new stadium will be close to Coventry but not in the jurisdiction of Coventry City Council. We met the Football League in January and discussed where it should be and what it should be.
“Instinctively it would not cross my mind to have it within Coventry City Council’s boundary given the history, histrionics and the issue of freehold ownership.”
“The club needs 100% ownership of the freehold of the Ricoh. If you look back at the history of the club, you can see why this is important.
“I don't posture. I always tell people what it is I need. I don't go for wasting time in negotiations.
“There is no way we will go back to [a] rental deal. As I said to the Football League when they asked recently if we would do a temporary arrangement, it would be irrational to return on an interim basis where I have any exposure to Coventry City Council whatsoever.”
“The long-term viability of the club depends on us doing this [building the new stadium]. If the status quo continued [playing at the Ricoh], Coventry City would not be here in a year or two.”
Joy Seppala, September 2013
In December 2013 we were treated to a utopian vision of that new stadium, with impressive designs unveiled by architects appointed by CCFC. Also, the Stadium Forum was launched, with a local lawyer, Sandra Garlick, leading a group of supporters in making recommendations about the detailed specifications.
“Having met with members of the Coventry City Football Club board and the owner, I have seen both their enthusiasm and determination to create a new stadium that brings a range of commercial benefits to the club.” Sandra Garlick, December 2013
I have little doubt that Ms Garlick genuinely believed what she had been told, but she placed the Stadium Forum in abeyance in 2015 in apparent disillusionment and it has never been reconvened.
Either side of the turn of year from 2013 into 2014, one of the more comedic characters to occupy the Sky Blues’ Board Room made his contribution to the propaganda.
“In the absence of a clear commitment [by Coventry City Council] to discuss ownership [of the Ricoh] we are pressing ahead with our plans for a new stadium on the outskirts of Coventry.” Mark Labovitch, December 2013
And then this classic, a few weeks later:
“We are about 3 weeks away from being able to name the final site.” Mark Labovitch, January 2014
But of course, 3 weeks turned into 5 years and not one crumb of soil, never mind the 60 acres of land required for “Highfield Road II” has ever been named, let alone purchased.
The cycle of spin slowed down after that embarrassing moment, though every so often, the mirage of a new stadium appeared on the horizon, even after City had returned to the Ricoh in September 2014.
The recently promoted Chairman of CCFC explained a “propco / opco” arrangement whereby CCFC would not own the new stadium but would have to pay rent at the new ground to another Sisu Company.
“The Capital cost [of the new stadium] would be met by a separate company, a property company. That's the norm throughout football whenever projects like this are undertaken.” Tim Fisher, March 2015
11 months later, Joy Seppala made one of her rare appearances outside of a court room when she visited the Supporters Consultative Group.
“A new stadium is essential for the viability of the club in the long run. We do not want to be in League One and if we were promoted and were smart about what we did, we could be competitive in the Championship. It is working well on the playing side currently and we could be successful in the short-term without our own ground. However a stadium is critical – it de-risk’s the economics of the club. Also it is the club’s and supporters’ home.
“The intention is to drive a new stadium forward as it de-risks our profile – but currently we are unable to give details or timescales. There were talks on a piece of land for a long time but nothing came of this, which was frustrating. Things will hopefully crystallise in the near term.” Joy Seppala, February 2016
From that point, the trajectory of dialogue began to change …. but still not in the direction of a long-term deal at the Ricoh. The first hint of a new “Plan A” came from the recently appointed, but soon to be departed, Managing Director of CCFC.
“I think there can be a solution that doesn't involve us owning the stadium.” Chris Anderson, March 2016
Very soon, the conversation entered a whole new ball park.