Ray Ranson's consortium ensured Coventry City avoided administration. Neville Hadsley reports
Coventry City have experienced last-gasp escapes plenty of times down the years so, by previous standards, surviving with just over half an hour to spare seemed rather comfortable. But that is how close the club came to extinction in December, when a takeover deal by the SISU consortium – headed by former Manchester City defender Ray Ranson – was finally sealed. Without the deal, administration would have been a certainty and a return to the old Third Division for the first time in more than half a century would have been more than a probability.
While on the field, matters were far from hopeless – the Sky Blues were top of the Championship in the autumn and a 2-0 Carling Cup victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford in September gave some indication of the potential – off the field, the club were in a desperate state. With debts of over £35 million, no ground of their own – the Ricoh Arena is owned by a company that in turn is dominated by the local authority – and no assets to speak of beyond the club’s name and status, it did seem that a rescue would be unlikely. And when the then owners of the club – led by Coventry MP Geoffrey Robinson – imposed a ten-day deadline for either the takeover of the club to be completed or administration (and a ten-point deduction) to kick in, a large number of the Sky Blues Army feared the worst.
However, Ranson came through with 35 minutes to spare and, although he possessed neither white horse nor trusty sword, knightly status was instantly conferred. A promise of money – some £20m – on top of clearing the debts only added to the effect.
Under the old regime, and in the space of 14 years, Coventry City had lost their financial stability, their ground and their top-flight status, which they had maintained for more than 30 years. To a generation of Coventry fans who had known nothing other than top-flight football, it was probably the last of the three that hurt most.
This not being a Disney cartoon, however, the fairytale ending soon gave way to harsh reality. Almost Ranson’s first act was to appeal to all the club’s shareholders to give up their shares. His consortium’s takeover had secured 71 per cent of the shares from the major shareholders, but now he wanted all the smaller shareholders to surrender the remaining shares, or at least a total amounting to 90 per cent. The subtext was, if you love your club, you will give up your part of it.
I am a small shareholder myself. I have one share (out of 55,000-odd) and I bought it for more than £100 quite a few years ago in order to be able to attend AGMs and receive the club’s accounts. The money doesn’t really bother me, but the sacrifice seems so unnecessary – a 71 per cent holding is sufficient to have total control – that I refused.
I had lots of correspondence from the club. First, a formal offer of 0.0001p for my share, then a letter from the outgoing chairman that managed to be both slightly pleading and faintly threatening. “If we do not reach the 90 per cent, the future is bleak,” it said.
Another letter followed. Then Jimmy Hill, who, as manager, took Coventry from the Third Division to the First, announced that he had changed his mind and was prepared to give up his small number of shares. I remain unconvinced. The club is part of me, and my share is part of that whole connection. Also, as virtually all of the remaining shareholders are supporters, I think that to junk that connection for total control (rather than the effective control already achieved) seems a backward step.
On January 9, I got yet another letter telling me that the new owners were 6.7 per cent short of 90 per cent and that the deadline had been extended to April. With the euphoria of another cup success – the 4-1 FA Cup defeat of Blackburn – the club’s prospects look brighter than at any time since the needless dismissal of John Sillett in 1990. Some remaining shareholders may feel encouraged to comply, but I doubt it. I suspect my postman will be busy for a few months yet.
From WSC 252 February 2008