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Why Arsenal fans are supporting Coventry City tonight

By Tony Attwood

Coventry City FC is in a total, awful mess and the history of that mess reveals much of what is wrong with football and the way it is run in England.

But I am really pleased to say that Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association, of which I am  a committee member, is supporting Coventry supporters in their struggles.

As one of my colleagues at AISA said recently, “You don’t have to love your opponents, even bitter local  rivals, to co-operate with them for mutual benefit,” and I utterly agree with that.

Better still RedAction, the grouping that focusses on the atmosphere at the Emirates, is taking clear and positive action.  I don’t know if the TV cameras will pick up on this (the TV companies have an absolute desire to suggest that all is fine with football, to wallow in the imagined “magic” of the FA Cup, and never consider what life is like for the people who go to games), but I do hope so, not least because I’m proud to belong to a group of supporters that can take a wider view of football and our need to find ways to fight the real hooligans – by which I mean the club owners and exploiters who have no understanding of what football means to those of us who support a team.
REDaction have been working behind the scenes with the main Coventry fan groups to help with their preparations.   They have used their contacts at Arsenal to help get approval for Coventry’s banners to be brought into the stadium; and are hoping Arsenal fans will support of the Coventry fans.
After 35 minutes of the game, Coventry fans plan to sing a song asking “why” they are playing ‘home’ games away from home.
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After 61 minutes, they will sing a song asking “when” they will return to Coventry. At both of these points, we are calling on all Arsenal fans to stand and applaud our visitors, to show support for their campaign.
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And in case you are not familiar with REDaction, there’s their statement of what they are at the end of this piece along with a bit about AISA and my role therein.
But back to Coventry – the club that once gave us a few smiles when they won the cup against, oh, who was it they played in the final, can’t quite remember…  1987…

Anyway, Coventry is older than Arsenal by three years, and are now owned by Sisu, a hedge fund which uses money from unnamed sources that reach it via the Cayman Islands.

Sisu moved Coventry to Northampton Town’s ground (the nearest league club to me by chance) following a dispute with Coventry City council, which built and owns the Ricoh Arena, which is modern, well-equipped, holds 32,000 and is well-positioned at the edge of the city.

Their manager is Steven Pressley who is a great Wenger fan, and who speaks out against financial doping – indeed he was doing it on BBC Radio Five Live this morning.

But he is working with academy players and the like, and playing in front of crowds under 2,000.  Yet until a few years back Coventry were in the same league as Arsenal.  It shows what can happen if you change ownership and get that change all wrong.

But Coventry do still get away support – the game against MK Dons in Milton Keynes saw around 7000 fans turn up – so I imagine they have taken most of their allocation for tonight’s game.

The owners of the Ricoh ground has offered Coventry City use of the ground in return just for the costs of the match days themselves, but Sisu have turned that down instead demanding that the council must sell Sisu the freehold ownership of the ground – some reports suggest for as little as around £4m.   It cost the taxpayer over £100m to build, and one can’t help concluding (although of course I fully admit I am not in possession of all the facts) that Coventry City FC is an irrelevance in all this.  Sisu (it seems to me, but it is just my opinion) want the Ricoh Arena on the cheap.

The Football League don’t come of this at all well, in that they have done nothing to support or rescue Coventry City, holding a view that might be expressed as “it is hardly our fault if a club goes to the wall – happened before, it will happen again”.  Indeed the League has been letting clubs failed since about the 5th year of the competition.  Accrington were, I think, the first league club to go to the wall, although it has been back in many other guises since.

It seems that the losses being made by Coventry are being paid by the Caymen Islands trust fund and run about £3m a year which is nothing if the owners do get a property in Coventry at about £100m under its value.

In March 2012 Sisu defaulted on its rent on the Ricoh, which put the Arena owners in a financial spot, and the council moved in.  Sisu sued the council for reasons that escape me, and lost on the simple grounds that they hadn’t paid the rent.  The stadium owners sued Sisu for £600,000 and then put the club into administration.  Sisu then bought the club back from the administrators.

According to the Guardian, Tim Fisher, who is Sisu’s chief exec said, “Sisu is a distressed debt fund and therefore batters people in court.”

Sisu then obtained the right for a judicial review, which may still be going on, I’m not sure on this point, and despite the offer of the stadium at match day costs, moved Coventry City to Northampton. The Football League caved in as they always do.

Sisu say they will now build their own stadium in Coventry, and that they are well on the way to doing so, but Freedom of Information enquiries show that there is no such project underway and that enquiries for available land seem to have come to nothing – but here again of course there may be activity I am not aware of.

During the course of all this Sisu sent a legal warning to a fans’ group the Sky Blue Trust over a link to an article in the Guardian on the fans’s trust web site.  (Not the article mind – just a link to the article).

The owners of Coventry claim the article contains “a number of material inaccuracies and distortions and may potentially be defamatory” and that the club has “written a thorough response to the article which we sent to the newspaper asking for a correction.”

That article is still there, and there is no mention on the Guardian page to suggest that it feels anything is wrong.  Obviously I have not been doing my own personal research with Sisu on this, but as always with articles such as this relying on commentaries in the press – including of course the Guardian article.   Obviously if Sisu would like to write a piece correcting what they perceive as any errors here, I will of course publish it in full, without comment.

So there we are.  Of course I don’t know who is right and who is wrong here, although football and the supporters of Coventry are the losers.  The tragedy is obvious – a club that has done well, given the size of its fan base and the number of rival clubs close by, has been moved out of its ground to another ground a distance away against the will of the fans.

It is a warning to all of us, as to what can happen to a club if things go wrong after a new owner gets hold of a club.

Now back to RED Action and AISA…

REDAction is an open forum of Arsenal supporters, whose aim is to improve the atmosphere at Arsenal matches, and to help support our team as best we can. We can be found in The Rocket, 166-220 Holloway Road, before and after weekend home games, where we also have a range of attractions, food and cheap beer(!) for all Arsenal fans.
We rely on ideas and input from all Arsenal fans, and all comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Please create an account on our website to share your views and ideas.

As for AISA, their website is here    Unrelated to today’s issues, but still part of AISA, is the AISA Arsenal History Society, which is the bit I run.

10 comments to Why Arsenal fans are supporting Coventry City tonight

  • Va cong

    Crazy!

  • Ernie E

    I neither support SISU nor oppose SISU because as with so many confrontations, there is merit on both sides of the argument.
    The simple truth is that CCFC (no matter who the owners are) cannot afford to pay rent for a stadium like the Ricoh. For a mid to long term solution, the club needs to own a stadium of their own.
    Incidentally, there is a fact wrong – “The owners of the Ricoh ground has offered Coventry City use of the ground in return just for the costs of the match days themselves” – this only applied when the club was in administration. The owners of the Ricoh now want a full rental agreement.
    The obvious solution is for the club to buy the Ricoh at a suitable fee. SISU has asked for an independent mediator to set a fee but the owners of the Ricoh – ACL and the Council refuse. Almost certainly because the Council oppose (on political grounds) a hedge fund owning such an asset.
    In reality, the fans arent helping. By not turning up to support their club, they are depriving the club of funds and not supporting the team on the pitch. Inevitably, this will have consequences – poorer performances and giving SISU the excuse to impose more financial cuts.
    The Council and ACL havent helped either by refusing to accept a fair settlement offered by the administrator, costing the club vital points this year
    A mess – but SISU arent the only ones to blame.

  • rantetta

    Hedge fund?

    Oh shit. I’m so Sorry for you Coventry.

  • i take my hat off to all you gooners for supporting us in our fight to return to coventry lets not forget this can happen at any stage to any football team and we the supporters are the ones who get to suffer.
    nice one.
    p.u.s.b.

  • finsbury

    Sisu a little bit like the Lewis and Levy double act at 5pur2s? Comedians, eh? Can’t live with them…
    They are probably in the same office block in Grand Caymen.

    Why would such upstanding offshore number fiddlers want to own the plebs land whilst avoiding paying any tax back to said plebs? It’s a tricky one! The FA and the governments stewardship of the people’s game is an unfortunate reflection of bigger trends.

  • rantetta

    Fit and proper persons, innit?

  • nicky

    This is a prime example of the outrageous side of our national game.
    Coventry City deserve the support of all right-minded football fans in their search for equity.

  • OlegYch|h

    ОРСЕНАЛ

  • Ian

    Thanks to all Arsenal fans who applauded our protests against the owners who have stolen our club. I was at the Emirates for the game, and was really impressed.

    I remember some great games between our sides at Highfield Road (oh, to still be there!) and it’d be great to welcome you back to the city.

    Good luck for the rest of the season. Being exiled in Manchester these days, it’d be nice not to have smug Cit-eh and United fans on my doorstep!

    Cheers
    Ian

  • thanks Ian. Not sure if you saw it, but the Arsenal Independent Supporters Assn, and RedAction joined forces to pass the message around, and of course untold did its bit.

    Best of luck.

    Tony