Tuesday, 12 November 2013
Does promotion represent Blue Sky thinking or a Sky Blue problem for Coventry?
It's a bit confusing being a Coventry City fan at the moment. On the one hand, the team and manager are putting together some truly amazing results and playing the sort of football that we've rarely been accustomed to since I can remember.
On the other, the team are still playing 35 miles outside of Coventry with little support, some fans are choosing to fight each other in vicious bouts of catcalling and abuse in forums (and on TV), and there is still no way of knowing whether we will be building a new stadium or returning to the old one.
It may be tempting to try and detach these two schools of thought from one another. If the team is playing well and winning games, it becomes natural to use that as a mental escape from the financial and political quagmire the club has found itself flailing around in. If Steven Pressley has achieved these results whilst playing quality football and having to play at Sixfields then that must be some consolation for our predicament, and maybe it shouldn't be sullied by linking the good with the bad, and even the downright ugly.
Given our good start to the season, I was of this opinion. Keep the footballing side of the Sky Blue roller-coaster on one side, while the Sisu/ACL/council debacle can sit firmly on the other side. Any other way of looking at it would be to complete the self-fulfilling prophecy of being a pessimistic Coventry City fan, and our new footballing-dawn should deserve better than that.
However, given our good start to the season this view becomes a little complicated.
We need to talk about promotion. What a glorious feeling it is, especially given the 10-point deduction, to be sitting in 11th place, three points from the play-offs and with the best form in the league. While it is a somewhat rub-your-eyes-and-blink-a-few-times feeling, it also begs the question: what happens if we do earn promotion?
Let's start with the facts. As things stand, regardless of any talks between Joy Seppala and Ann Lucas, we are at Sixfields until a new stadium is built in the Coventry area for the club to return to, or we return to the Ricoh. The two have been reported to have been engaged in talks over a freehold sale of the stadium by the ever-reliable Coventry Telegraph, but these are early days and nothing remains bought or sold yet.
So unless the talks are successful and the team return to the Ricoh, that means a stay of up to five years in Northampton until a new stadium is built by which time, if current form is anything to go by, we may well have been promoted.
And if we are still playing at Sixfields, I can foresee a few problems with the idea of promotion.
For a recent Championship club, the smallest stadium has been that of Scunthorpe United (Glanford Park) which has a capacity of 9,088. Their average attendance for that final year in the Championship was 5,547. Coventry's average for this year so far at Sixfields is 2,239. Even with a return to the Championship, it is hard to see crowds increasing at Sixfields due to either an unaffordable match-day experience, or continued staunch stances on watching the team at a stadium they shouldn't be playing in.
Watched on by their average of 5,547 fans, Scunthorpe were relegated after two seasons in the second tier of English football in 2011. With such low incoming revenues, challenging the elite of the Championship, especially those who were living in another realm of financial capability due to ongoing parachute-payments from the Premier League must have been nigh-on impossible for two seasons, let alone if they were trying to establish themselves as a steady, second-tier club for a number of campaigns.
As well as poorer crowds than Scunthorpe were accustomed to, the Sky Blues have to deal with losing money due to renting Sixfields from Northampton Town. With no income visible to the naked eye, the thought of improving the squad or offering better contracts seems implausible.
The point remains that if Coventry are to stay at Sixfields for the remainder of the three-five years, would promotion be a hindrance rather than a advantage? With limited revenue from many fans whom I am sure would stay away due to their strong beliefs on the matter, and the players (and manager) on show in a bigger shop window, there is every chance that promotion may just mean another relegation, but this time with more key players being lost and a talented manager being tempted away.
That is not to say this would not happen if we were back at the Ricoh. It would however mean we would be better equipped to deal with the new realities of an increasingly stronger second-tier, financially and support-wise. Regardless of your thoughts on Sisu and their attempted occupation of the Ricoh, the fact is that the club, team, and supporters would be better off if the company owned the stadium. If that means they choose to sell on the club with the stadium to interested bidders, or continue running the club with the valuable match-day revenues minus the extortionate rent payments that were expected by ACL and the council, so be it. It may not be an ideal situation given their history, but it is the most attractive looking option for the club at the present time.
I am no Sisu apologist. Nor am I an ACL/council one. It doesn't take a genius to work out that if (and it is an 'if', with more than half the season to go) Coventry get promoted, we would need to be back in the Ricoh.
So fingers crossed that talks between Lucas and Seppala go well. Because the result might just mean that we Coventry fans can start to reconcile the business and the footballing side of supporting our club.