Published on July 4th, 2013 | by Seb
Sky Blue Thinking: The Waning Optimism Of A Coventry City Fan
After the developments over the past couple of days regarding Coventry City have a read of this article from Issue One, written by Coventry fan, Jon Spencer.
To many people, Coventry City was the fairly average club that you always saw in the top division. Despite being fairly poor pretty much every season -bar a few- they would manage to stay in the division, making a habit of doing so on the last day. It was always the ambition of the owners to move the club away from this affiliation; they wanted Coventry City to challenge for Europe etc. Investment in the late 90s, prompted big name signings such as Robbie Keane and Mustapha Hadji and relative improvement followed, before eventual relegation in the 2000/2001 season. After 11 years of mediocrity and nothingness relegation to League 1 occurred last season…
The 2007/08 season changed the lives of both me and my football club dramatically. My family had moved into the area and it meant for the first time I could have a season ticket at my beloved Coventry City. There were murmurs of imminent financial ruin for quite a while; it was well known why we moved to the infamous Ricoh Arena. (For those that don’t know, the land that Highfield Road was on was sold to try and cover debts, while the council funded the building of the Ricoh) The first problems of the season came when the club failed to pay an instalment to Southampton for the transfer of Leon Best. By December, the club had been taken over by the SISU consortiumwhich was fronted by former Manchester City fullback Ray Ranson; by February SISU had acquired 90% of the club. The chant of “There’s only one Ray Ranson” rang around the Ricoh, as the takeover was done 10 minutes before administration would have occurred. To the fans at the time; this was the start of something, plans were drawn up for the getting back to the Premiership, and everything was rosy.
The first issues with SISU began at the end of the 2008/2009 season. The ‘plan’ described by Ranson was to secure young, talented footballers from the lower leagues, who would be kept together so that promotion could be achieved. Scott Dann and Danny Fox both had very successful seasons after they both signed from Walsall. They were both sold though, which many fans didn’t understand, and it soon became clear that SISU were diverting away from the original plan. The majority of the fanbase believed it was to make a quick buck, whilst others would say it was necessary to keep the club surviving. Regardless of why they did it, they had now set a precedent, the precedent being that if a decent offer came in for a player he would be sold. This effectively meant promotion was never going to happen.
Fans soon became alienated and attendances fell; the average for 2007/2008 was 19,123 and by last season it had fallen to 15,118. Reduced income followed and a vicious cycle of lack of investment, followed by reduced attendances soon developed. Managers came and went, with none of them doing anything significant on the pitch, large payoffs being made to each of them, all the while increasing the debt. The final straw for many came when SISU mortgaged off the training ground to raise funds, the club’s only remaining asset was now gone. For those that don’t know, the club pay £1.2 million per year to rent the Ricoh. The club only collects money on ticket sales, not on any of the food sold etc. So for the club to break even, it has to average at least £24k every season. The club is losing £4 million a year; the threat of liquidation looms large with the debt rising week on week.
The lies, the lack of communication, the insistence on waiting to the last year of a player’s contract before attempting to negotiate a new one and the sale of every asset we had, turned the fans firming against the board. I wouldn’t say it was heartbreaking last season to see the club relegated, because it was predicted. However, it certainly prompted a realisation of just how far we’d fallen. It suddenly became obvious just what SISU had done to the club, it wasn’t a one off bad season, it was the culmination of terrible decisions over the last few years which had resulted in relegation. Due to a lack investment Andy Thorn had to resort to playing many of the youth team players, who simply couldn’t handle a full season of football. The club came out after the season and announced redundancies were going to occur, suggesting there wouldn’t be a halt on the drastic cutting back of spending. The general fear is that SISU are looking to get out and are trying to salvage as much as possible of the money they invested.
On the pitch at least there is a level of optimism, League 1 is being viewed as something different to enjoy by the fans (with the new grounds to attend etc) and most are quite excited about the new season. Most are careful with their words mind, after a former chairman, when we were relegated from the Premier League which said something along the lines of “it’s going to be fun”… I’m sure you can analyse the degree of humour encountered over the last 10 years or so. A top half finish would be acceptable, with most hoping a push for the playoffs is possible (administration permitting). Hopefully the off-the-field issues are placed on the back burner, so the club can enjoy a decent season for a change; the possibility of that however, is extremely unlikely. Last season reiterated that football really is ruled and dictated by money, time for a change.