Countdown to Homelessness Part 1
While the plans for BPA progressed less far even than those for Highfield Road II, the concern in late 2017 turned to the time expiring on the current deal to play at the Ricoh.
When former CCFC Director, Steve Waggott, negotiated the return to the Ricoh in September 2014, it was on the basis of 2 years’ initial period and a further 2 years’ option that could be exercised at the will of the football club. This was all the football club required because, as demonstrated earlier, Seppala and Fisher were still insisting that the future lay in a new stadium.
Already half way through the option period, there seemed to be a problem looming. Wasps had been in control of the Ricoh since shortly after the Sky Blues return to the Arena and were the potential victim of the legal action being pursued by Sisu, using the Football Club as a vehicle, against Coventry City Council.
Talks about a future relationship for Coventry City at the stadium had been broken off previously by a former Wasps’ CEO. Referring to the legal action as a “distraction”, he said:
“We decided that we wouldn’t conclude the conversation at that point in time. This was during the time when various appeals were going on at the Court of Appeal.
“I’m not a lawyer but you can’t ignore the volume of comment about it. We felt it was difficult to conclude on a long-term arrangement while all that was still going on.” David Armstrong, June 2016
With Mr Armstrong due to step down from the role in summer 2017, there was a more co-operative stance from his successor-in-waiting.
“We haven’t heard anything from the football club.
“Obviously I’ve read about the bids going in [a reference to approaches from the Gary Hoffman consortium to buy CCFC], and I imagine that’s what’s taking the football club’s time.
“If and when they wish to talk to us, of course we are always willing to talk and listen.
“They are here for another season, and we’ve always made it very clear we want them to be here for the longer term.
“Clearly they are pursuing a number of long-term plans, which they are entirely within their right to do.” Nick Eastwood, May 2017
Yet fans endured an anxious wait through the Autumn and Winter of 2017/18. The new Chief Executive, Dave Boddy, gave assurances in December that a new deal was “imminent” but it was several weeks into the New Year before a firm announcement was made.
“We’re very pleased to announce this agreement, which is a deal for the club to continue playing at the Ricoh Arena until at least 2019.” Dave Boddy, February 2018
His Wasps’ counterpart showed that there was an iron fist in the velvet glove:
“The agreement which was put in place to allow the football club to return to the city is in its last season.
"We fully appreciate the importance to Sky Blues supporters of their club playing in their home city, so we have agreed to a one-year extension with the football club.
“CCFC have on numerous occasions expressed their wish to move to a stadium they own, but with those plans not yet realised this agreement will give the Sky Blues an extra year to secure a new home.
“This is certainly not a commercially-driven decision, and there are plenty of financial and other arguments for us not continuing with any agreement, but we do not wish to see the football club disadvantaged.
“We understand the importance to supporters and the city itself of having Coventry City playing in Coventry. That has been at the forefront of our thinking, despite the significant distraction of the current legal proceedings.
“It is widely known that there are obstacles – in the form of the current legal proceedings – which stand in the way of a longer-term agreement.
“We believe it is important for all parties concerned that we clarify at this stage that, unless those obstacles have been overcome by the time those discussions for the 2019/20 season would normally commence, then, regrettably, we will not be in a position to enter such discussions.” Nick Eastwood, February 2018
The sense of relief that City were safe at the Ricoh for one more season was tempered by the short-term nature of the deal. There were two strong messages from Mr Eastwood which bear emphasising:
- CCFC had been granted an extra year to secure a new home after having expressed their wish to move to a stadium they own, on numerous occasions.
- There would be no discussions for the 2019/20 season while legal action continued.
Those signals have not been heeded by Sisu and CCFC, with potentially disastrous consequences.
But hey, we were shortly to embark on the best end of season party for over 50 years, culminating in that glorious League One Play Off Victory at Wembley. For a short while, we could enjoy football success and push the off-field problems to the back of our minds.