A Kick In The Butts
“Coventry City FC can confirm that long dated talks have been held with the Butts Park Arena [“BPA”] and Coventry Rugby Club on a future ground share deal.
“Whilst the club still has two years left on the current deal with the Ricoh Arena, it is important that the club continues to work towards securing its long-term future.” Coventry City FC, May 2016
It is fair to say that initially there was some cautious enthusiasm from Coventry Rugby Club towards the potential for a ground share. It didn’t last and has long-since been ruled out by their Chairman, recognising that Sisu are not people with whom he and his club would wish to do business.
“I have certainly firmly ruled out any involvement with Sisu.” Jon Sharp, January 2017
In the meantime, the Coventry City FC Chairman, in line with his habit of over-promising and under-delivering, was keen to build up hopes. At the same time, he was never one to miss an opportunity to deflect blame onto the Council or others. As in this fine example, when speaking to the Supporters Consultative Group:
“So, Butts park, where are we? We’ve previously developed a scheme which comprises a stadium, residential, a hotel, student housing and retail. The massing exercises and financial modelling shows it works and we have two potential institutional investors interested in the development. This scheme would be good for Coventry City as a club, Coventry as a City and the community - providing inward investment.
“However, at this time the development scheme will not move forward. There is a political embargo. The club cannot move forward on the site. The council want the owners of the club to stop legal proceedings. I cannot influence this situation at all. I can only focus on the things I can influence and that I can change.
“However, if at some moment in the future – scintilla temporis - the political embargo is set aside or falls away then we would have an opportunity to potentially build-out Butts Park.” Tim Fisher, October 2016
It is entirely possible that Coventry City Council had considered running interference at the early stages of this discussion, by inserting a clause into the ground lease to prevent professional football from being played at Butts Park. In reality, CCC had no serious power to stop a development. Further, the Leader of the Council had previously confirmed their position:
“I want to clear up any confusion about the proposal to develop a joint stadium for rugby and football. I want to be really clear that the council will not put any obstacles in the way of this happening.
“Anything that requires our involvement including variations to the leases will be considered in the usual way - openly and transparently by members.” George Duggins, May 2016
So talk of a “political embargo” was apparently just Fisher-speak. As for the use of the term ‘scintilla temporis’ … a Latin law term for a legal fiction of an interval of time separating two events that can't practically be separated but the order of which affects a legal issue … your guess is as good as mine!
In a fractious meeting with members of the Sky Blue Trust, the Chairman continued to peddle the BPA as a realistic future for Coventry City.
“The Butts Park Arena is on in terms of the football club. We are working with the Football League and Coventry Rugby Club.
“Jon Sharp has made a statement over the last day or so which shows his commitment, as long as we have some form of mediation, because Jon believes it is right and appropriate because peace and reconciliation in this city.
“If he can accommodate the football club, and all the infrastructure challenges, then that’s what they will do.”
He added: “As long as there is a breakout of peace, I do believe the Butts Park Arena is an option for a Coventry Rugby Club and Coventry City Football Club ground share.” Tim Fisher, March 2017
Which conveniently ignored a key passage in what his opposite number at Coventry Rugby Club had said:
“Also, as I have already stated elsewhere, we will not deal with SISU.” Jon Sharp March 2017
At that same Trust Meeting, the myth of a new stadium was finally put to bed:
“We weren’t able to close a land deal on our own stadium - full stop.
“But we spent a lot of time working with Coventry Rugby Club to develop a stadium which would be more than ample in terms of capacity.
“It’s the preferred option because it keeps us in the city. We are committed to staying in Coventry.” Tim Fisher, March 2017
So there we have it: Plan A is dead, long live Plan A! Except that the new Plan A wasn’t long-lived at all.
“There has been no movement. The position of Coventry Rugby regarding the football club has not changed.
“They are a sister club bearing the city’s name with a proud old history just like us, have fallen from grace just like us. We are marching back up and I sincerely hope that they do and we will offer what support we can to get there.
“One thing we can’t do is to have any formal arrangement with them, any groundshare while they are owned by their current owners.
“And the reason for that is quite simple - the current owners are in the first place, whether correctly or not, vilified within the city and we have spent many years re-establishing our relationship and our standing in the city, and I’m not prepared to risk that by associating with City’s owners.” Jon Sharp November 2017
As we now know, even if Sisu themselves had not been an insurmountable obstacle, the surrounding infrastructure costs associated with building a stadium of sufficient capacity for Coventry City’s stated needs were the final nail in the coffin.
“….. there was once upon a time the idea the Sky Blues may move, but they wanted a 25,000-seater stadium and I was informed by a council official that, if that was to be the case, the roadworks alone, which would be for our tab, would be £26million.
"So that didn't happen in a hurry." Jon Sharp May 2018