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FOOTBALL'S FRONT LINES

Kidnapped and driven to the brink of homelessness and extinction — the Coventry City story

FOOTBALL'S FRONT LINES: "My attitude is not to give kidnappers an inch. We need to get rid of them"

As Coventry fans sang ‘Is this your Wembley?’ to the travelling Luton support, it struck me how far the club has fallen.

Coventry, currently in League One, were a proud top division side for 34 years.

However, since their relegation and the ensuing takeover by hedge fund Sisu, the Sky Blues have been on a downward spiral of infuriating frustration.

Now the situation is about to reach breaking point…

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During the most tortuous period in the club’s history, fans have endured administration, points deductions, transfer embargos, a short spell ground-sharing with Northampton Town 30 miles away, and the promise of a new stadium that never appeared.

Headed up by owner Joy Seppala and chairman Tim Fisher, Sisu have mismanaged the club with such alarming nonchalance that Coventry are now on the verge of homelessness.

In May, after a one-year lease to play at the Ricoh Arena ends, they will be without ground.

Worse still, if no immediate resolution is found there is a real risk the 135-year-old club could cease to exist.

What would this man make of it all?

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What would this man make of it all?

Sisu were initially seen as saviours of the club in 2007, but it quickly became clear they were unable (or unwilling) to fund Coventry’s return to the Premier League.

Over the last decade or so they have seemingly undertaken a programme of trying to bring Coventry to its knees having made one confusing decision after another.

Having nearly invited the threat of eviction from their own impressive 32,000-seater stadium after rent disputes with Coventry Council and legal claims against new owners Wasps rugby club, Sisu now appear to be stuck in an endless cycle of court cases and appeals.

Having been treated with complete disregard by the owners, the fans have stuck by their club, even now as it teeters on the verge of decimation.

The dark times stem from a dispute over the stadium dating back to 2012.

Hard to believe this was a League Two ground last season

Getty - Contributor
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Hard to believe this was a League Two ground last season

In May 2012, Sisu had the chance to purchase a commanding stake in the Ricoh Arena, a move which would have secured Coventry’s long-term home and given it the stability to launch an ascent towards the Premier League.

Sisu then refused to pay rent to Arena Coventry Limited, the stadium’s operating company, as part of a strategy to buy into the stadium cheaply, according to one judge.

Then the firm tried to lowball the Alan Edward Higgs charity for their 50% but their £2million offer was refused.

During this time the club was ripped away to play at Northampton’s Sixfield.

The Alan Edward Higgs Charity rejected another bid from Sisu the following year, then sold their stake to Wasps – giving them complete control.

Since that moment, Sisu have pursued both Coventry City Coucil and Wasps relentlessly in the courts.

And despite Fisher famously saying that he expected Sisu to ‘batter people in court’ the company has lost case after case in trying to reach some sort of conclusion.

Where you go if the football is sickeningly bad

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Where you go if the football is sickeningly bad

The situation has left fans in a hellish limbo as they get accustomed to their club flirting with extinction.

Lifelong fan David Johnson told me: “If you wrote it as a book of fiction people would say it wasn’t credible.

“We have been a club with nothing more than a very short-term future for a number of years now.

“It is almost impossible to see beyond the current season.

“Sisu have brought us to the brink of extinction on several occasions and yet again we are facing that at the end of the current season.

“They have held our club hostage and my attitude is not to give kidnappers an inch. We need to get rid of them.”

Johnson’s whole matchday traditions have been disrupted by Sisu, who have ruled that only season ticket holders may sit in the block he has always occupied with his longstanding friends.

“I’m refusing to buy a season ticket under the current ownership. It’s not about money, it is just the principle.

“Unless I have a season ticket, I can no longer sit with my friends where I have sat for years, so I’m not going and a lot of other people feel exactly the same.”

Unfortunately they are all Luton fans

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Unfortunately they are all Luton fans

Just over 12,000 fans turned up to see Coventry lose 2-1 to high-flying Luton on Saturday.

But there is still real potential in the West Midlands as more than 40,000 supporters went to Wembley for last season’s League Two play-off final.

I spoke to Moz Baker, a former interim chairman of the Sky Blue Trust, volunteering at the Family Zone, an area set up for fans to come with their children and enjoy the sense of community at the club.

Baker explained the positivity of promotion from League Two is beginning to drain away while the feelings of resentment are reappearing as Sisu continues to drag the club through the courts.

“There’s a growing disillusionment creeping back in now that we know the owners are pursuing their legal challenge at the Supreme Court,” Baker said.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty over where we are playing next year, if at all.

“There’s a real genuine fear of what could happen to the club if the owners don’t sort it out.”

There hasn’t been many additions to this in recent years

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There hasn’t been many additions to this in recent years

The Football League have confirmed they will only allow Coventry to continue in the league if they remain playing in the city, which essentially means they have to find a solution for the Ricoh problem.

“It is a frightening possibility [to think of the club disappearing],” Baker said. “Most fans don’t think it will happen but there’s no alternative other than a deal with Wasps.

“The Ricoh Arena is the only show in town.

“I think there is so much bad blood between the owners and the fans now that there will never be a harmonious relationship.

“The best thing that I could advise them to do is to drop the legal challenge and put the club up for sale.”

With Wasps not willing to enter discussions while the legal action continues, and Sisu taking this case to the Supreme Court, the light at the end of the tunnel is yet to appear for the weary fan base.

All the while, the countdown to homelessness continues.


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