Not For the First Time
Those warnings from Nick Eastwood were not the first to be ignored by Sisu and the club, with the dire consequence that placed us where we are today.
Back to the dark days of Northampton and all the empty grandstanding by Seppala, Fisher and Labovitch. The revenues of ACL had been suffering since the Rent Strike began some 18 months before and the absence of the football club from the City was hurting other businesses. Never mind the hurt that most Sky Blues Supporters were feeling with our club in self-imposed exile.
The then Leader of Coventry City Council laid down a clear marker for Joy Seppala:
“If Joy Seppala is serious about wanting to discuss a possible deal, then we need to talk soon.
“There will be a point, in the very near future, where we will be overtaken by events, not least the outcome of Sisu’s renewed Application to the High Court for Judicial Review which is listed for November 28.
“My statement to full council on Tuesday October 22 confirms that all options are available for discussion.
“I am prepared to discuss, subject to contract, and without prejudice to the on-going court case, the issue of stadium ownership with Joy Seppala just as I have been prepared to discuss stadium ownership with other interested third parties in the past.
“If this matter cannot be resolved by the turn of the year, then I and all of my colleagues on the Labour group on Coventry City Council will look to put in place a process which ensures the best possible deal for the people of Coventry in relation to the Ricoh Arena.
‘‘So for one last time, I say, quite clearly, that I am prepared to meet with Joy Seppala and to have a discussion with her without prejudice and subject to contract in relation to all and any issues in relation to the Ricoh Arena, the land around it, and Coventry City Football Club.” Ann Lucas, October 2013
“We need to talk soon.”
“ …. I have been prepared to discuss stadium ownership with other interested third parties in the past.”
“If this matter cannot be resolved by the turn of the year, I and all of my colleagues on the Labour group on Coventry City Council will look to put in place a process which ensures the best possible deal for the people of Coventry in relation to the Ricoh Arena.”
Those warnings could not have been clearer … other than perhaps saying: “by the way, Wasps are buzzing around the Ricoh, so get a shift on if you don’t want to miss out.”
This was the response from the Coventry City Board:
“Joy’s door is open to Ann for further discussions. But we would have to be clear this time that it would be a discussion about stadium ownership.
“In the absence of a clear commitment to discuss ownership we are pressing ahead with the plans for a new stadium on the outskirts of Coventry.” Mark Labovitch, December 2013
A strange response, given that Ms Lucas had plainly issued an invitation to discuss stadium ownership …. but Mr Labovitch was a strange man!
So instead of entering negotiations as proposed by the Council Leader, Sisu ploughed on with the first application for Judicial Review in which they would get soundly beaten in 2014.
Ann Lucas repeated her messages in the New Year in a statement to full Council:
“…. I am no longer prepared for us to be distracted unnecessarily on this issue - as important as it will remain.
“We will prepare rigorously to defend our position against the owners of Coventry City Football Club in the ongoing Judicial Review proceedings.
“We will provide support to ACL as it gears up to deliver its business plan over the next year and beyond. “We will leave the door ajar to the owners of the football club and, indeed, any other interested parties who want to discuss sensibly the future development of the Ricoh Arena.
“But as I made clear before Christmas - we will now move on.”
She concluded her speech by saying:
“The position of Ms Seppala on behalf of the Club that they will only come back to the Ricoh Arena as complete and unfettered owners and in the meantime they will accelerate plans to build a new home outside Coventry - is equally clear. Repeating these respective positions does not strengthen the case, nor does it provide a solution.
“Now this Council must and will move on. We do not have time to waste and must not have unnecessary distractions from the priorities ahead of us all.
“I will continue to hope for a solution to this sorry saga - but I will not allow it to dominate and distract any longer.
“Enough is enough - we move on and lead our city to a strong, prosperous future - preferably with the Sky Blues at the Ricoh Arena playing an integral part in our success - but if necessary without them.”
Whether the owner and directors didn’t comprehend the warnings, thought that Ms Lucas was bluffing or believed that their court room strategy would give them the desired result so they could ignore the messages, it’s impossible to know. But they underestimated their opponent in just about every respect and that was a mistake of catastrophic proportions for Coventry City FC, as it left the path clear for Wasps to take the Ricoh from under Sisu’s noses.
It’s interesting to compare the two leading ladies in this saga. The Sisu Boss made great play of her resolute approach during her Coventry Telegraph interview. It proved to be hollow bluster:
“If anyone doubts a stadium will be built, they haven't had engagements with me over the course of the last two years.” Joy Seppala, September 2013
Ann Lucas, on the other hand, said what she’d do and did what she said. However distasteful the outcome, in my opinion that is an admirable quality. Supporters were naturally dismayed at Wasps’ takeover of the Ricoh …. I’m not happy that it ended any hope our Football Club had to own the Stadium … but I find it difficult to find significant fault with Coventry City Council when Sisu had more than enough chances to secure a deal and plenty of warning of the consequences if they didn’t.
And there was still one more chance to come.