The fixtures for the Football League (FL) have been released. Coventry City FC will at least be participating in the competition, after the club and CCFC Ltd, were taken out of administration on Friday 14 June, 2013. The club had been playing home games at the Ricoh Arena in the north of the city since leaving their former home, Highfield Road, in 2005. SISU, through one of the subsidiaries, either CCFC Ltd or CCFC Holdings Ltd, had been paying the rent due on the lease agreement for the subsequent five years to the landlords, Arena Coventry Ltd (ACL), a joint venture between the City Council and a local charity for disadvantaged families in the city. However, after relegation to the third tier of English football, SISU went on a rent strike in the spring of 2012. The dispute lead to Arvo Master Fund, a subsidiary under the control of SISU, placing CCFC Ltd into administration the evening before an application to the High court was due to be heard on behalf of ACL. This allowed SISU to choose the appointment of the Administrator, Paul Appleton, who subsequently selected a SISU controlled subsidiary, Otium Entertainment Group Ltd, as the preferred bidder to take the company, and club, forward and out of administration.
Bob Ainsworth, the MP for Coventry North East (Lab), has previously accused the owners of the club of attempting to destablise ACL in order to acquire the stadium at a knock down price as a sitting tenant. He stated
The club’s owners have been on a rent strike. They say they are fighting for a more realistic settlement for a league one club, although Arena Coventry Ltd … believes the agenda has been to destabilise the company and thereby gain control at a fire-sale price. A much lowered rent has been offered, but the dispute continues.
The Labour MP for Coventry South, Jim Cunningham, agreed. He stated in parliament that
I have the impression that the parent company, Sisu, bought the football club to acquire the stadium.
The stadium owners have offered to allow the club to play at the stadium for free whilst CCFC Ltd is in administration, with the Administrator then only liable to contribute to direct match day costs. The aim is to keep the club in the city where it was founded. Tim Fisher, CEO of CCFC Ltd and a director of Otium, has insisted that there is no option but to move the club away from the city and has dismissed the idea that the club could play next season at home, in Coventry and at the Ricoh. ACL’s position would also appear somewhat entrenched, no doubt reluctant to start fresh negotiations with SISU if previous dealings with CCFC’s board is any influence. When the Sky Blue Trust questioned a representative from ACL earlier in the year during the initial rent dispute, they asked
30: Are ACL willing to be bound by an agreement brokered by independent mediators or arbitrator?
ACL: No. We have put our best and final offer on the table after months of negotiation with both SISU and CCFC. It was a reasonable and generous offer, as recognised by all 3 CCFC directors in attendance on 29 January 2013, as they verbally accepted it and shook hands in confirmation. We are not prepared to make further concessions, nor do we believe that any mediator could reasonably expect that we would. The ball is in CCFC’s court. Negotiations are now at an end, and the Board of CCFC have been duly notified.
Fisher had apparently been asked if he had the authority to complete a deal before the start of the meeting. He confirmed he had. A man and his word has for centuries been sufficient. It appears that Fisher and his fellow directors then went back on their word, before any agreement had been drafted by lawyers in writing for all parties to sign. This encounter highlights why the board of ACL may be reluctant to open fresh negotiations with the club.
ACL have today issued a statement, which appears to be a step in the right direction and may well pave the way for future negotiations.
The Board wishes also to make crystal clear that it is absolutely committed to keeping the Sky Blues in Coventry at the Ricoh Arena. The Directors will do everything within their power to ensure this is able to happen.
It is a brave move on the part of ACL considering the recent history between themselves and CCFC. The decision to move away has split fans of the Sky Blues, with many season ticket holders claiming they will not renew if the club leaves the city, whilst others, most likely a minority, insist that you follow the team no matter what. The club is currently in talks to ground share at an as yet undisclosed stadium, in the midlands area, whilst claiming that plans are in place for SISU to finance and build a new replacement stadium in the Coventry area, that will be alegedlly completed within 3 years. Fisher has been very vocal about the need to reunite the club and the stadium. However, when pressed on the matter at recent fans forums, he could give no assurances as to who would actually own the new stadium once built, possibly leaving the club in exactly the same situation as it now finds itself, divorced from the stadium and its associated income streams.
The Football League were initially very reluctant to clarify which of the Ltd Companies had been in possession of the ‘golden share’, the certificate that allows the company, and the club, to participate in league competitions. They have yet to issue a press release, but it is generally now accepted to be with CCFC Ltd. In contrast, within 4 days of the news of the ending of administration, the FL were able to react stating that they will
now work with the administrator and the proposed purchaser with regards to the fulfilment of the requirements of The League’s insolvency policy.
The ball would appear now to be very much in CCFC’s court. Or penalty box. Along with the executive of the Football League. It has been noted that Walsall are away from home every week of the season when the FL consider the Sky Blues to be at ‘home’. So when will Coventry play away at walsall?