The Club Who Want To Be Sent To Coventry

Last week, Coventry's administrators gave the club back to the people that put them in administration. Nick Miller looks at the worries many City fans have about their club...

Last Updated: 21/06/13 at 08:14 Post Comment

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Last week, the 'preferred bidders' for Coventry, who have been in administration since March, were chosen. These were the buyers that would, in theory, guide the club away from the current financial cavern they're residing in and set them on their feet again.

Otium Holdings were the lucky punters, selected by administrator Paul Appleton to sort out the mess the Sky Blues were put in by former owners SISU and their 'disagreements' with the owners of the Ricoh Arena last season. Good news, right? Well, not quite.

For CEO of Otium is a Mr Tim Fisher, also CEO of Coventry City FC Ltd, the 'company' that was placed into administration last season. So basically, the administrators have returned the club, possibly with flowers and a bow, to the chaps who put them in administration in the first place. The phrase 'back to square one' springs to mind.

This, quite understandably, did not go down very well with the clubs' fans, particularly given Fisher/Otium/SISU's plans for the club involve them groundsharing with an unspecified club (talks have taken place with several clubs "in a 30-mile radius", with Walsall mentioned) before returning to a new ground in a few years. This yet-to-be-built new ground has been described as being in "the Coventry area", a statement so vague they may as well have said City's new home would "probably be in England, somewhere."

Appleton said that "the bid from Otium Entertainment Group Limited was substantially more than any of the other three bids received," and that it "gave the greatest return to the unsecured, non-connected creditors of CCFC Limited by a considerable margin." Which is fine, but was it the right choice for the club?

The mess Coventry are in stems from the rather interesting way SISU managed the club over the past five or so years, which led to them deciding that the £100,000-a-month rent they were paying to the owners of the Ricoh (Arena Coventry Ltd) was too much, and they stopped payments in April 2012. It probably was too much of course, with the agreement stating that as well as paying this rent, Coventry couldn't gain any revenue from matchday concessions, so if you bought a pie at the Ricoh, none of your £3 went to Coventry City. Of course, SISU signed the agreement that obliged them to pay this rent and under these conditions (which, admittedly, circumstances dictated), but that's by the by. This 'exchange of views' led to, among other things, ACL placing a freeze on the clubs' bank account in February, and eventually to City being locked out of the ground.

After lengthy 'discussions', often played out in the press, SISU cut all ties with the Ricoh and tried to strike out on their own, a plan that was obviously inhibited slightly by their company being in administration. Of course, that particular hurdle was shifted out of the way when the administrator they appointed gave the club back to them. Confused? You shouldn't be - this sort of thing is as old as the hills.

ACL did make an offer for the club to play 'rent free' earlier this month, but this doesn't seem to have been take up by SISU...sorry, Otium, who are cracking on with their 'plans'. And it is these 'plans' that are proving the concern. Firstly, the vagueness of the proposed location for both the groundshare and the new stadium, meaning there is more than a whiff of the MK Dons about the whole thing. The worry that SISU will take the club away from its natural home is very much present.

And secondly, there's the old definition of insanity. If a club is put in financial peril largely due to a shiny new stadium that has proved expensive and unsustainable, it doesn't seem terribly logical to just build another shiny new stadium and hope their problems will be solved. Coventry already barely have a pot to piss in, so saddling them with the debt of a new ground would take away the pot, throw it out of the window and leave them with a ruined carpet.

Other bids certainly proved more popular with the City fans, notably one fronted by the magnificently-named American property tycoon Preston Haskell IV. Part of Haskell's proposition was to purchase the half of ACL that is currently owned by the Higgs Charity, as well as the club itself, thus ensuring that Coventry would have a home that is close to, well, home, and that they might actually benefit from the revenue that home produces.

Supporter Michael Gilbertson says: "The Haskell bid fronted by (former vice-chairman Gary) Hoffman and Joe Elliott (the club's currently-suspended 'life president) would have secured half of the Ricoh Arena and kept the club within the city, which for the majority of fans is all we want.

"We don't have delusions of grandeur, we won't be the next Manchester City, we just want a club we can be proud of that is part of its local community."

Haskell initially conceded defeat in his bid for the club, but now apparently believes (according to The Coventry Telegraph) Fisher and Otium will fail the Football League's fit and proper person's test. It's a test that few have managed to fail, but this piece explains why that might be a realistic hope at more length.

Unless something changes fairly drastically however, City will be groundsharing next season, which again will apparently not go down particularly well with their fans.

Michael Gilbertson explains: "At the recent fans forums held by Tim Fisher with the aim of finding out the 'fans views', the question was asked "Who would attend games at Walsall should we ground share?" Around 15 people out of 175 said they would."

Uncertainty surrounds Coventry, another club apparently being taken further and further away from its fans by business interests. Which is enough of a problem, if you weren't also left with the sense that these business interests aren't particularly interested.

"We want a club that we can be proud of," says Gilbertson. "SISU constantly refers to the club as a business. It isn't - it's part of what we live and breathe daily. This could well be the death of CCFC if the Football League do not step in and be bold. Football is about fans. They need to prove that now."

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