No end in sight for long-running dispute
6 July ~ A year has passed since the Football League sanctioned Coventry City's relocation to Sixfields in Northampton following a bitter commercial dispute between the club's owners, the hedge fund Sisu, and ACL, the company representing Ricoh Arena owners Coventry City Council and the the Alan Edward Higgs Charity. Coventry supporters hoped that June's long-awaited judicial review to determine the legality of a £14.4 million loan from the Council to ACL might signal a turning point in the dispute, but Judge Hickinbottom's conclusion appears to suggest otherwise.
He took less than a minute to deliver his verdict that Sisu's claim had been unsuccessful, and while some saw this as a victory for morals in the face of the club's decision to break a contractual rental agreement, it has done little to further the process of reconciliation.
The rhetoric emanating from Sisu in the build-up to the case was bullish, with many assuming from the relentlessness with which they pursued the case that they possessed a trump card. The verdict, though, suggests that their seemingly irrational decision-making has not been informed by anything game-changing or revelatory – just a simple and long-standing desire to salvage some profit from the club at any cost.
CCFC chief executive Tim Fisher responded by maintaining that the judge's conclusion was incorrect ("We believe [the loan] is wrong in law and in fact"), laying the groundwork for an appeal that seems highly unlikely to yield Sisu's desired outcome but which will surely prolong fans' misery.
The news that the club have also dismissed an offer from fan group Keep Cov in Cov to pay the rent required to return the club to the Ricoh Arena for the next three years "at no financial risk" appears to have left Sisu increasingly isolated. Fisher again asserted that "Plan A" remains building a new stadium in "the Coventry area", but few are convinced of his sincerity – not least because the plan seems to lack any serious credibility. Promises have been made for months about the release of information regarding potential sites but there is little to suggest that this is a viable way forward.
Sisu therefore find themselves running out of options. Assuming that any appeal against the judicial review is unsuccessful, the hedge fund are no closer to acquiring the Ricoh Arena than when they placed the club's holding company into administration in March 2013. And while the owners procrastinate and leave the club in a state of limbo, the rot is becoming further entrenched. They have always maintained that they will cover losses while the club play at Sixfields with negligible income, but the departures of the likes of Blair Adams and Mark Marshall to League One rivals suggest an inability to compete financially.
While some supporters were willing to give Sisu the benefit of the doubt in the hope that the judicial review might facilitate a resolution, there is now a strong feeling that they have wasted months on a pipe dream, further weakening the club's position in doing so. It is time for the Football League to re-evaluate the basis on which they granted the club permission to relocate temporarily to Northampton while the damage already inflicted remains reversible. Tom Furnival-Adams