DUNLAVY: Feast­ing on bones of Coven­try

The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE -

WHEN Amer­i­can busi­ness­woman Joy Sep­pala sought a name for the hedge fund she founded in 1997, her Fin­nish her­itage clearly came to mind.

In Fin­land, the word Sisu is used to de­scribe the na­tional traits of sto­icism, tenac­ity and re­silience.

Dur­ing the mer­ci­less bat­tle against Soviet oc­cu­pa­tion dur­ing World War Two, it came to em­body the Finns’ dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion to keep fight­ing af­ter most peo­ple would have quit.

“Sisu is the strong­est word in the Fin­nish lan­guage,” said Arthur Ly­di­ard, the leg­endary Kiwi ath­let­ics coach, who spent 19 months work­ing in Helsinki dur­ing the 1960s. “You tell a Finn he doesn’t have Sisu and it’s like spit­ting in his face.”

Plumbed

How Sep­pala’s an­ces­tors would turn in their graves to see what a per­ver­sion of those traits her brain­child has be­come.

Sisu, the virus that is de­stroy­ing Coven­try City from within, is de­ter­mined all right. De­ter­mined to hang on to its failed in­vest­ment come hell or high wa­ter. De­ter­mined to squeeze ev­ery last pip out of a bone-dry, rot­ten lemon.

De­ter­mined to con­tinue in­flict­ing the wan­ton ne­glect that this week sent a woe­fully weak squad to the foot of League One. It is a new nadir in a decade which has reg­u­larly plumbed the depths.

In Oc­to­ber, Coven­try sup­port­ers – aided by the lawyer who helped Pom­pey Sup­port­ers’ Trust res­cue Portsmouth – in­vited Sep­pala for talks to dis­cuss a pos­si­ble takeover. She didn’t bother to re­ply, in­struct­ing lawyers to in­form the group that the club was not for sale.

Not that there’s much left to sell. Sisu owns a youth team, a place in the Foot­ball League and a train­ing ground. Even that is un­der threat, with the

Coven­try Tele­graph re­veal­ing in Septem­ber that Otium, the Sisu-owned sub­sidiary cur­rently ‘run­ning’ the club, held se­cret talks with the coun­cil about build­ing houses on the site.

Tenac­ity? In spades. Take the long-run­ning bat­tle with Arena Coven­try Ltd, own­ers of the 50 per cent share in the Ri­coh Arena that Sisu des­per­ately cov­ets.

In 2012, Sisu ar­bi­trar­ily elected to stop pay­ing rent on the grounds that it was be­ing over­charged.

Did it care that Coven­try were forced to play ‘home’ games in Northamp­ton? Of course not. Hell bent on per­suad­ing ACL into sell­ing its share, the play­ers and sup­port­ers were sim­ply col­lat­eral dam­age. Un­for­tu­nately for Sisu, Coven­try City Coun­cil loaned ACL £14.4m to cover its losses.

Sisu claimed this amounted to “in­ap­pro­pri­ate” state aid and de­manded a ju­di­cial re­view. Hav­ing been ac­cused of hav­ing “no strat­egy to sus­tain a foot­ball club” by the judge, then laughed out of an ap­peals court in Septem­ber, Sisu has now taken its case to the Supreme Court at an es­ti­mated cost of £1m in le­gal fees.

How Mark Venus, the care­taker man­ager, who this week de­scribed Coven­try as a “sorry club”, could use that in Jan­uary.

Sisu has lived up to its name in the worst pos­si­ble way. And the sad thing is, no­body even knows why. Clearly, money is the root cause, but it is dif­fi­cult to see where any can be made.

Given the scarcity of as­sets, liq­ui­da­tion is sense­less. Sell­ing the train­ing ground would yield just £2m. Should the Supreme Court rule against Sisu, it is out of op­tions.

Maybe that will be the cue for Sisu to fi­nally end nine years of tor­ment and sell up. If not? At this rate, the 30th an­niver­sary of Coven­try’s his­toric FA Cup tri­umph in 1987 will be marked by an equally his­toric de­scent to League Two.

Ar­du­ous

Not since 1959 has this fa­mous club sunk so low. Worse yet, Coven­try do not have an agree­ment in place to re­main at the Ri­coh be­yond this sea­son. The ques­tion must surely be asked: if Sisu won’t sell, has the time come for sup­port­ers – many of home are al­ready boy­cotting matches – to re­boot the club in Non-League? Wouldn’t it be bet­ter to pour money into a club with heart and soul than into the pock­ets of blood­suck­ers with none? Cut­ting ties would be heart-break­ing, the path back to re­spectabil­ity slow and ar­du­ous. But Wim­ble­don’s week­end clash against MK Dons shows what can be achieved. Dons fans showed sisu in the face of ad­ver­sity. Maybe it’s time for the Sky Blue army to show Sep­pala and her cronies the word’s true mean­ing.

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