Fan power wins the day for Sky Blues
BRAVERY EARNS RETURN TO THE RICOH
AS football grounds go, the Ricoh Arena is a stinker. Plastic, corporate, outof-town and expensive – everything that robs a stadium of soul and spirit. Yet Coventry’s return last Friday turned the place into a cathedral, a tumult of noise and emotion reminiscent of glory nights at Highfield Road. For one night only, it was everything it was supposed to be.
Perhaps one day, when Coventry own the deeds and pocket the keys, win promotions and nurture heroes, it really will be a place to call home.
But for now, at least, the Ricoh stands as a monument to what football fans can achieve when they take collective action.
Coventry’s owners, the Cayman Islands-based hedge fund Sisu, were determined to snatch a slice of the Ricoh. But they didn’t want to pay market value. Oh no. That would have upset their investors.
So first they stopped paying rent to ACL, the stadium’s owners. A judge found this had been done not through desperation but was a calculated move to “distress” the finances of ACL, a company comprised of a children’s charity and the local council.
When ACL sued, City’s owners responded by putting the club into administration, despite incurring a ten-point deduction for doing so. Again, their actions were born not of financial hardship, but ruthless profiteering.
Finally, having tried and failed to shaft needy kids and the public purse, they did the dirty on the fans, shifting the whole club 34 miles south to Northampton.
This time, though, the hardnosed businessmen found themselves up against far more ruthless opposition.
Sisu banked on the blind loyalty of supporters, budgeting for crowds of 3,000. In the event, gates were often less than 1,000.
Though it must have broken their hearts, fans of 40 and 50 years standing stayed away, unwilling to put another penny into Sisu’s pockets. Devastated kids were denied the highlight of their week. Dads were forced to go shopping instead. But they didn’t crack.
They realised Sisu only cared about one thing: the bottom line. And that’s what they attacked. Eventually, it became untenable to stay away from Coventry. The poker players had been beaten at their own game.
“I think if the supporters had turned out in their numbers at Sixfields that there would not have been such a great pressure to return,” said manager Steven Pressley. “But they voted with their feet and I think you can never forget that football clubs are built around the supporters. This is their victory.”
Of course, this is a battle won, not a war. Sisu still own the club. ACL still own the ground.
Until both of those things change, it is hard to see a bright future.
But an example has been set. Fans whinge constantly about the game becoming ‘corporate’, about being fleeced by soaring ticket prices, about a lack of investment in the side.
Then they go through the turnstile on a Saturday and hand money to the very people they hate. It’s madness, like moaning about celebrity culture while reading a copy of Heat.
If you really want to make a difference, stop whining and hit your club in the pocket. In football, money talks. And it is the only language people like Sisu understand.