Fan power wins the day for Sky Blues

BRAV­ERY EARNS RE­TURN TO THE RI­COH

The Football League Paper - - CHRIS DUNLAVY -

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.

Loy­alty

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.

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