The recent demise of Coventry City

Guest post from Shaz Rahman.  For our younger viewers, Coventry’s fall may be neither here nor there. But for a very long time they were one of those unrelegateable teams that simply stuck around forever, punching above their weight and annoying bigger clubs on an annual basis.  They won the FA Cup, gloriously, in 1987, and it’s fair to say they’ve had some of the great football kits of all time. (Check the 87 blue version of Denmark’s famous Hummel kit!). Anyway, cheers, Shaz, great stuff.

Coventry City have just been relegated to League 1, which is the third tier of English Football. It’s the culmination of a steady decline, indicative of the boom or bust nature of how professional football is run in the UK. Football has simply reflected our society, unsustainably chasing success by throwing money around without true evaluation of the risks involved. Most Professional football clubs in the UK consistently lose money every year, including the majority of the Premiership teams. How long can this last?

I am writing about Coventry because I have a soft spot for them. I completed my Masters in Coventry and I have been to a couple of games there. They also have an amazing green and black striped away kit. The financial peril that Coventry have found themselves in is due to a massive financial gamble that has spectacularly backfired. In the mid 1990’s I remember Coventry being a regular fixture in the Premier League. Coventry had expansive plans to bigger and better things, to move from their long standing home Highfield Road to a new state of the art stadium with a retractable roof and pitch.

But disaster struck when Coventry were relegated from the Premier League. Playing in what is now the Championship meant a massive reduction of revenue to the team so the plans for the new stadium had to be downscaled. The stadium was meant to have been completed by 2001 but by the time this date was reached no work on the ground had actually happened. Eventually the stadium was built and opened in 2005. Coventry’s new football complex was originally meant to have named sponsorship from Jaguar but they withdrew after Jaguar had undergone financial difficulties. Ricoh stepped in and provided the cash so the ground is known as the Ricoh Arena.

A shiny new Arena did not solve Coventry’s problems. The stadium was designed for life in the Premiership and the revenue that comes with it. The amount of money generated from Championship football is not enough to sustain the Sky Blues, which means that the club is continuously haemorrhaging money. Championship football did not entice the fans to the Arena either as the club has only ever sold out one match there, a Carling Cup match against Chelsea. Staggeringly Coventry City does not even own their stadium as it is owned by the council so when the likes of Bon Jovi and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers come to play it is the council and not the football club who profit.

Recently I watched Coventry play Millwall in the Championship in the most important match of Coventry’ season. Had theywon, Coventry would have had a good chance to avoid relegation. Coventry lost. Depressingly only 13,000 attended. Coventry City is a one team city, which makes the appalling attendances even more saddening. Relegation to League 1 is only going to worsen the plight of the football team. If Coventry could only attract 13,000 people to their biggest game of the season in the Championship how many fans can they attract to the Ricoh Arena in League 1? I suspect the answer is not enough to sustain the club that was making significant losses in the Championship. The financial black hole that the club finds itself in could turn out to be fatal. The owners are looking for an exit strategy and are increasingly unpopular with the fans.

The plight of Coventry is sad for me to witness, but the most alarming thing to consider is how easily football clubs can fall into this trap. Many teams that were once riding high in the Premier League are now languishing in the lower leagues struggling to sustain themselves financially in a trend that is reflected in wider society. This financial gambling might bring great success, but ultimately is damaging to the sustainability of the game.

14 thoughts on “The recent demise of Coventry City

  1. Good article and well written Shaz. Its very sad to see our demise and how I wish I had appreciated the Premier league days more. The attendances are poor considering we are the 9th largest City, but we are all so fed up with the owners. Having said that things might be looking up and there is a feeling that the Sky Blue Phoenix is starting to stir. Thanks for the support, and nice to hear one of our Uni’s have eduicated you. I work at Cov so it would be nice to think it was us you were talking about and not the rabble down the road at Warwick! So long may that soft spot for the Sky Blues continue and the best of luck to Fulham next year and keep dishing it out to the big clubs on our behalf.

  2. The UEFA fair play rules should be interesting. Fulham’s heavy investment in youth with a core of seasoned pros and the odd star seems like a sensible and timely strategy. This might be the last transfer window for sugar daddies to spend big, but these big players also come with big salaries, week in week out. Really not sure how QPR and half the premier league are going to balance the books. Al Fayed really did come at the right time and put things in place for the long-term. Still wish he’d splash some last cash on a Murphy replacement.

  3. Which makes the way we are being run all the more impressive. Investment in youth team and infrastructure, savvy purchases from both the foreign and domestic markets, risk controlled contracts, solid marketing, stability in management (both playing and operations), attractive football. That is surely the only way to long-term stability as you cannot guarantee success and we very much seem to be on that path.

    1. it wasn’t long ago that we were wondering about the ifs and whens of youth investment/progress. All of a sudden – and perhaps reflecting the club’s desire to look further afield than Wandsworth – we seem to have made huge strides. Intriguing to see where it takes us.

      1. It’s really incredible. It’s not just looking further afield, it’s exhibiting a willingness to spend significant sums on players who it is intended will go into the youth system. Smalling may have been the catalyst, I’m not sure. But, whatever, I’m really excited to see how some of these players turn out.

  4. Thanks for a sad and sensitive article.
    There is at least one link between FFC and Coventry, one Mr Jimmy Hill.
    Jimmy started the ball rolling at Coventry that led eventually to the top tier of football.
    Let us hope we can witness another resurgence from the Sky Blues.

  5. For someone who’s not a City you’ve summed up our plight very well.

    Current owners SISU came in with a decent plan for the club which didn’t involve spending great amounts of money, but purchasing young up and coming talent through decent scouting and slowly building a successful squad. Unfortunately they ran out of patience with their own plan and pulled the plug, selling any assets we had. In the short term, this is why we now find ourselves in League One. That’s not ignoring the financial decline that started in the 90s of course.

  6. Well written Shaz, a very interesting perspective on the troubles of CCFC. I think the situation this club finds itself in is down to two things: firstly, Coventry have *always* been a selling club, e.g. Dennis Mortimer in the 70s, then in the late 90s, Dion Dublin and George Boateng, they all went down the road to Aston Villa. The season we were relegated from the Premier League in a way mirrors last season in that in 2000 we sold Robbie Keane and Noel Whelan and allowed Gary McAllister to leave on a free transfer to Liverpool and then failed to adequately replace those quality, experienced players which left us in dire trouble. In 2011, we let three of our better players leave the Ricoh after their contracts expired without putting up much of a fight and then tried to plug the outfield gaps with a mixture of youth and random signings which ultimately didn’t work out.

    Secondly, the financial problems we’re encountering have been long-term. It was probably, ironically, the FA Cup win which started the problems when we started making bigger purchases (David Speedie from Chelsea for a staggering £900 k back in ’89 ;) ) but not necessarily improving our on-pitch fortunes (we haven’t finished inside the top 6 of a league since 1970.). In 1995, Big Ron Atkinson demanded and got investment of some £20 million, but unfortunately Coventry still lingered around the bottom of the Premiership. In the era of big spending, City tried to compete against the big boys of United, Arsenal, etc and against the would-be giants of Leeds United and Aston Villa, but ultimately the club’s size counted against it, and the big spending ultimately counted for nothing. By 2003, we were some £60 million in debt, and we’re probably still working on that amount today.

    Our owners, SISU, came in to rescue CCFC from admin in late 2007, but as a hedge fund, one wonders their competency in running a football club or even if they realised how much investment and effort (and patience, it has to be said) it takes to make a club successful. The season before last (10/11), we were actually in the playoff mix around Christmas time, but when players started leaving/dropping out, SISU provided the manager with no support whatsoever. I think at present SISU realise that in order to get out of League 1, we need to attract a good standard of players, but again, these efforts are mitigated by letting the likes of Gael Bigirimana and Richard Keogh leave for a significant profit. On top of it all, SISU have the collective diplomatic skills of an angry pitbull and have alienated City’s fans and the local council alike for their aggressive pursuit of the Ricoh Arena (and trying to get the rent down…)

    This is going to read a bit weird, but I do admire Mohamed Al-Fayed for his chairmanship of Fulham- he may be a controversial figure for various reasons, but his stewardship of the football club isn’t really all that commented on. I could be wrong, though :p If more owners were like him, I think we’d be seeing less horror stories like Coventry, Bradford and Portsmouth- clubs who tried to keep up with the big names but ultimately paid dearly for their exertions.

    Other thoughts: FFC and CCFC have had current Wales manager Chris Coleman in the dug-out for both clubs for one stint. Also, sorry to be pedantic, but the Chelsea game was an FA Cup Quarter-final. We usually don’t get the first round of the Carling Cup (or whatever it’s going to be called now :))! Hopefully we’ll get to play Fulham in one of these competitions soon tho :P

  7. Living in Coventry, I can only echo the comments made previously. Absolute madness to sell Highfield Road for a short term gain. Coventry will not rise until the Sky Blues own their own stadium again. I am going on Sunday to watch some World Cup footie it is sad that nothing will go back into the Sky Blues coffers. Coventry came up the year we went down from the top league(give or take a season) When we reached the top flight, Coventry went down. I would love to see Fulham play in Coventry, maybe next year in the FA Cup.

  8. My son in law to be works in Coventry and we were discussing City at the weekend. He’s an Arsenal supporter but works with City fans.

    He says that City don’t own the new ground and are merely tenants. Former owners sold Highfield Road and the proceeds have been dissippated which is a euphomism I’m using for legal purposes.

    In other words the club has been f***ed by former owners. I don’t know if he’s correct.

    I was at Warwick University from 1968 to 1971 and often went to Highfield Road. The club was a massive presence in the City due to a supreme marketing exercise by Jimmy Hill. He transformed them from a permanently lower league club to one of the most progressive in the country. And now they’re back where they started.

    The 33 years they were in the top league exactly coincided with the 33 years we were missing.

  9. Sad times for Cov. I remember that 1987 FA Cup victory, it is one of those that you just can’t forget. All FA Cup finals nowadays seem to blur into one boresfest between two of the big four/five.

    But the 1987 final is just so vivid to me. Clive Allen’s early goal, Dave Bennett, Chris Waddle, Keith Houchen’s amazing goal, Mabbutt’s own goal in extra time. What a game. Unforgettable. A proper cup final.

    1. same here. Weird, eh? Perhaps the last one that’s stayed so vivid in my mind. They lost to Sutton around that time in another FA Cup campaign, I believe.

  10. Coventry – despite being a similar sized club to ourselves they’re one of the few English clubs I’ve not seen Fulham play at, as we haven’t met in the League since 1968. Despite their long spell in the top flight I always felt they were punching one division above their weight, as their attendances were comparatively low and they rarely threatened to win anything – then came their amazing Cup triumph in 1987, right out of the (sky) blue! Still, difficult to imagine them grovelling around the lower divisions for too long.

    On a different tack, when considering the EUFA fair play rules don’t forget the massive increase in TV revenue commencing in 2013/14…

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