The performances on the pitch are sensational, but the arguments off it persist, and the moral assertions remain. There’s a suggestion we’re not even allowed to watch Sky anymore. How can we as fans address the situation in a matter than can actually have some impact?
I’ve had a go at figuring this out before, but it’s bloody hard. In a similar attempt to reach sense, Coventry fan and writer Tom Furnival-Adams has used the time on his sickbed to assimilate his thoughts.
By Tom Furnival-Adams
Four home games into the season and the Sixfields groundshare is now a vivid reality. While the team has been an absolute credit to both itself and manager Steven Pressley, there are still deep-seated issues at the club. Attendances are at a record low, and the infighting amongst fans is deeply regrettable. Having vowed to boycott Sixfields – a stance which I continue to observe – I am now faced with the consequences of that. The administration process is close to completion, and it feels appropriate to take a look at things afresh; to reconsider what our intentions as fans are, and how we might go about achieving them.
Overwhelmingly, I feel, the first step must be compromise. Between ACL and Sisu; between those boycotting the games and those attending Sixfields; between the notion that we are by rights a top flight cub with a 32,000 seater stadium, and the fact that we could viably cease to exist if fortune does not conspire in our favour.
Now is a time for re-evaluation. Previously my thinking was anchored in the assumption that Sisu would not carry through their threat to leave the Ricoh, that this was all a petty game of one-upmanship. It turns out that they were serious. The landscape has changed and so too must our approach to salvaging our football club.
The second step is unity within the fanbase. The mudslinging between the hardcore ‘Sisu out’ crowd and those who see attending Sixfields as simply ‘supporting the lads’ is pitiful. Regardless of our own feelings, we have to be more tolerant of those who disagree. No one is an oracle of knowledge or moral righteousness. I think it’s wrong to go to Sixfields because it legitimises the move and disincentives the owners from a) returning the club to Coventry and b) any urgency in doing so. This does not mean I am right. It’s possible that I am starving the club of much-needed revenue, and in boycotting home games, may be jeopardising its future. I can only do what I feel is right, just as we all can. We need to empathise with each other and harness our power as a collective. Divisions will only weaken us.
Which leads me on to: priorities. What do we want? Sisu out? A return to the Ricoh? A return to Coventry? An investigation into the club’s administration, going right back to the mid-nineties? Beggars can’t be choosers. There is a limit to our influence. Can we force Sisu out through sheer willpower? I don’t think so. I also don’t think that we can starve them out by boycotting Sixfields and observing the ‘Not one Penny More’ philosophy.
As things stand, the priority must surely be to return the club to Coventry. I can tolerate Sisu’s stewardship, but I can’t and won’t stand by idly while our club plays its home games 35 miles away. It’s disrespectful, destructive, and unacceptable.
I also aspire toward transparency. We still don’t know what Sisu’s plan is. We are yet to be illuminated on the proposed new stadium; but perhaps even more importantly, we don’t know what Sisu’s ultimate aim is.
To make back the money they’ve lost on sustaining the club since taking it over – plus the revenue lost throughout the Sixfields move and that spent on a new stadium – it could conceivably take decades: and that’s assuming that the team is relatively successful. What happens if we drop down to non-league? Is all this debt being saddled on to the club in the form of loans owed back to Sisu/Otium? If so, does the cub really have a viable future if it does not return to the Ricoh?
The cynic in me feels that, if Sisu have a realistic, healthy plan for the future of the club, they would be keen to showcase it. If Sisu are to ever win our trust, they must be honest with us.
ACL, too, owe the fans transparency. What was the intended outcome of failing to sign the CVA? The ten point deduction we received going into this season could still end up being the difference between promotion or, indeed, relegation.
There is still so much uncertainty that it is vital that we continue re-evaluating things and questioning our actions. Boycotting Sixfields feels right to me at the moment, but stubbornness is not productive.
If we are stuck with Sisu, it is not inconceivable that their interests will eventually align with those of the fans. If they do produce a viable plan to return to Coventry and a return to the Ricoh looks impossible, boycotting Sixfields begins to look counter-productive. Equally, if Sisu go down a road of evasiveness and deception, it would feel utterly wrong to legitimise the Sixfields move by attending.
We must also not forget those who physically or financially can no longer watch the team because Northampton is simply too far away. We owe it to them to oppose the groundshare if it is avoidable.
And that is the question that continues to bother me. Is it avoidable? I try to empathise with all stakeholders. Do Sisu have an alternative? Have all options been exhausted? Without being party to any negotiations that have taken previously between Sisu and ACL, it is very hard to say with any certainty. Again, it is imperative that we keep an open mind.
We must resist the temptation to attribute blame to one party or the other; ACL or Sisu. Play devil’s advocate at all times. Consider every eventuality and don’t always go with instinct. What is clear to me now is that any protest must be aimed at all parties. The days of #SisuOut are in the past, because forcing Sisu out seems beyond the capabilities of the fans. The spinelessness of the Football League and the FA has shown that we are on our own, and we simply don’t have the power to overthrow our owners – look at Blackburn and Newcastle.
A successful outcome can only arise from pressurising all parties to compromise and negotiate.
Boycotting Sixfields is a legitimate (and in my view the most powerful) way of sending out a message to Sisu, but the boycott doesn’t have to be the solitary course of action. It is possible to be anti-Sisu AND anti-ACL. We, the fans, have one shared interest, and that is Coventry City Football Club. The priority in the short-term, in this set of circumstances, is a) to return the club to Coventry, and b) secure its future.
It is feasible that that future may incorporate Sisu’s ownership and their proposed new stadium – if Sisu are serious, they may be our best option of securing a future for the football club in Coventry.
Equally, the aims may be achieved by new ownership and a compromise being reached with them and ACL – or even the sale of the Ricoh to new owners. Who knows, it may not even be beyond the realms of possibility that Sisu could still purchase the Ricoh. The eventualities are endless, and we simply do not possess the knowledge nor foresight to be black-and-white in our mindset and in our actions.
I am categorically not ‘pro-Sisu’, and my instinct is not to trust them as far as a I can throw them. But my instinct four years ago was that Nick Clegg seemed like a decent bloke. Circumstances change.
I am also not ‘pro-ACL’. Likewise, my views have changed in accordance with the evolution of events. ACL’s actions over the past six months have shown that we cannot trust them with our football club’s future. Their interests are purely commercial, and to have claimed otherwise is plain wrong.
As fans we must remember that we are Coventry City supporters. That is all. Our priority must be to negotiate this bizarre landscape in order to safeguard the club for ourselves and for future generations. That can only be achieved by keeping an open mind, by sticking together as a group, and by constantly re-evaluating this mess.