17 December ~ It will not be news to many that Coventry City are struggling. Having dropped like a stone through the Championship strugglers, the Sky Blues now find themselves propping up the league, seven points adrift of safety and with a trip to the division’s second-highest scorers, Peterborough United, to come today. Problems on the field manifest themselves in the form of just two available strikers, Lukas Jutkiewicz and Clive Platt, and consternation over the former’s probable sale – he is the league’s fifth-highest goalscorer – along with club captain Sammy Clingan in January. The issues off the field are slightly more complicated.
While some fans got their wish with the departure of chairman Ken Dulieu at the beginning of December – though he claimed to have turned Coventry’s perilous financial position around – the Portuguese-based businessman has reappeared as Head of Football Operations. More troublingly, he also appeared on the Coventry City bench last weekend alongside manager Andy Thorn, who had to publicly excuse the bizarre event as part of Dulieu’s new job specification.
If the alarm bells weren’t ringing before, they have been shrieking the place down since. While owners, chairmen and the suits can be oppressive, few have ever invaded the sacred space of the dugout.
It is certainly not an easy time to be a fan. The club’s owners, the hedgefund Sisu, have dug in their heels in the face of protests – but the club cannot currently survive without Sisu’s support. The regular accusations from fans of asset stripping and of the owners lining their pockets from player sales are somewhat hyperbolic though, and are mostly born of the fury that accompanied Sisu’s dismissal of a takeover bid from a consortium headed by former Sky Blues chairman Gary Hoffman, said to be worth £30 million.
Whichever way you look at it, the club has significant debts to service, remains hamstrung by tenancy agreements surrounding the Ricoh Arena and, without Sisu, could easily cease to exist.
With the owners incumbent for the foreseeable future and the underfunding of the squad likely to continue, the best Thorn can hope for in January is some forays into the loan market, from where Coventry have managed to secure the talented Gary Gardner from Aston Villa. The gloom is gathering.
Disgruntled reflections on the financial situation have spread to the team’s performances and even more supportive voices, such as Coventry’s FA Cup-winning manager John Sillett (who speculated that Thorn "must have killed a robin", such was his bad luck), have done little to detract from the increasingly pervasive opinion that City are playing as if already relegated.
It is a cycle that becomes difficult to break, especially when your former chairman pops up on the bench while supposedly in the middle of negotiating contacts with senior players, the saleable Clingan included. Attendances have dropped below 12,000 as two home wins all season, and none on the road, have seen the Sky Blues pick up just 13 points from 21 matches.
Thorn, however, remains defiant and the more optimistic voices have targeted a cup run as a possible, albeit unsteady, source of momentum. For a club struggling for unity between stands and pitch, the FA Cup tie with Southampton on January 7 is the target of the aforementioned boycott, and looks set to go ahead regardless of those imploring its cancellation. Rob Macdonald