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.