It has been a life-affirming week for most Coventry City fans. Whilst the win against Gillingham was great, it was the mood of joy and optimism that began hours before the game even kicked off. Of the many highlights of the evening, the crowd welcoming the team onto the pitch, the goal celebration, John Fleck’s audacious effort, the spontaneous ‘stand up if you love City’ which took in the entire stadium was the most breathtaking.
More than anything Friday night confirmed what a big club Coventry City is. For too long we have accepted our fate as perennial underachievers who will only let you down. Getting the win against Gillingham symbolised the change in atmosphere around the club. This is a team that is proud to play for Coventry City and we have a manager who has a plan and knows how to achieve it.
The new chief executive Steve Waggott’s role in generating this sense of giddy optimism that many Coventry City fans now have cannot be understated. Not only did he play a key role in actually bringing the club back to the city, but he handed Steven Pressley a new contract on the exact same day he promised to do so. Waggott is also a man who appears capable of doing exactly what he promises, a rarity amongst the SISU-era directors.
Like many other Sky Blues, I am currently feeling incredibly optimistic about the future direction of this club. It feels like we are entering the third act of a film, we have been through hardship and toil, now is our chance to finally, finally achieve something as a football club. It has been far too long since we have been able to say that, it should make any success that we achieve all the more sweet.
Prior to Friday’s game though, Tim Fisher commented that the current rental agreement would be unsustainable at Championship level. For some fans this has hinted that SISU have yet to give up on either building a new stadium ‘in the Coventry area’ or attempting to further wear down ACL into a cheap sale of the Ricoh Arena. The two-year deal, with the option of an extra two, does give the sense that the underlying issues surrounding our exile are still to be resolved.
It has been recently revealed that the club still does not have access from match-day food and beverage sales. The reason for this is that Compass, a separate company to ACL, currently hold the rights for food and drink sales at the Ricoh Arena. Understandably so, Compass are unwilling to give up those rights on the cheap. Whilst this dynamic remains we may struggle to compete financially with most Championship clubs should we return.
This is because the second-tier has changed since our relegation nearly three years ago. It is a division that is increasingly divided into the haves and the have-nots, very few clubs are now able to challenge for promotion and keep their finances on a stable-footing. Were we to return, it would require a significant cash injection from our owners to challenge for anything other that 21st position.
The greatest problem that Coventry City has is that SISU remain our owners. Their original mission for the club which was to achieve Premier League promotion and a quick sale has failed and they are salvaging their investment. Even greater than the SISU problem though is the question of who would buy Coventry City Football Club?
Not only have the Gary Hoffmans and Preston Haskells of this world appeared to be more facade than interior, but you also have to look at the Massimo Cellinos and Karl Oystons of this world. As John Madejski once said: ‘The only way to make a small fortune out of football is to start with a large one’. It seems you either have to be very rich or very vein to want to buy a football club, particularly one like Coventry City with few assets and a large amount of debt.
Whilst the Sixfields boycott was successful in creating a situation where Coventry City could no longer stay in Northampton, it is not a long-term strategy to replace a bad owner with a good one. Our job as fans should now be to come to the Ricoh Arena as often as we possibly can. If a potential owner can see a full stadium then it displays the potential of the football club to someone who can take it to the next level.
Ultimately though the feeling though is that the worst is over. Whilst the current rental agreement is currently only two (or potentially four) years, there is no way anyone anywhere close to the club will be able to get away with moving the club from its city. All the agreement should do is to keep both sides in check and looking to sort out a longer-term solution.
The return to the Ricoh Arena has presented the owners, the management, the players and the fans with the chance to build a football club that we can be proud of. Friday night showed everyone what is possible at this football club when things go right. Let’s make sure then that the we can re-live that level of feeling on a more regular basis, it’s about time.