COVENTRY City boss Chris Anderson insists the future of the club’s crucial youth academy that produces young stars remains under threat as his requests for a lease extension have been ignored.
We revealed in a recent exclusive interview with him his claim that he was recently informed by the Alan Higgs Centre’s trust operators that the club would have to leave the centre when a lease expires in June next year.
Other proposals for the centre include a council-supported 50 metre swimming pool; and rugby club Wasps’ new youth academy next to the existing building containing an indoor pitch – a planning application for which has been submitted to Coventry City Council (see Wasps image in photo gallery).
The situation was condemned in a statement following the interview by fans’ group the Sky Blue Trust, which demanded clarity.
It said: “Coventry City needs to continue to attract and then develop the players who will become the future of our club. It is therefore imperative that this status, which attracts a grant in the region of £500, 000 from the Premier League, is protected.”
Paul Breed, chief executive of the Coventry Sport Foundation (CSF), which operates the centre in Allard Way, responded last week with the following statement: “Coventry City’s current legal agreement for its academy to be based at the Higgs Centre expires in June 2017.
“It is no secret that Coventry City have been looking to base all their playing operations at a purpose-built complex in the Coventry area and therefore move away from the Higgs Centre and had told us in meetings they would therefore be unable to commit to a long term future, which is completely understandable. Obviously we have to bear that ambition in mind when making our own plans for the centre.
“Recently the club has informed us their intentions might change, and we are exploring options.”
Mr Anderson told the Coventry Observer today there had been no approach to the club by CSF to indicate any change of position, and his repeated requests to open discussions for the club to remain at the centre had been ignored.
Commenting on Mr Breed’s remarks that it was “exploring options”, Mr Anderson said: “We were delighted that there might be a glimmer of hope. I subsequently wrote to Mr Breed not once, but twice, asking about terms under which the club’s Academy could continue renting the Higgs Centre facilities.
“We have been aware that they have had discussions with Wasps, but we are completely in the dark as to where those discussions are or what they will imply for our tenancy.
“In the meantime, I have yet to receive a reply. I don’t know why.”
He said the club had not been given notice to vacate, adding: “Let’s take a look at what is actually being communicated. Reading the statement carefully, Mr Breed essentially said that the club had decided to leave the Higgs Centre and the Coventry Sports Foundation therefore had no choice but to look for alternative uses. That is simply not true.
“When you rent a flat, you might at some point think about buying a home. You might even contact an estate agent to see if there’s a piece of land to be bought. That’s not the same as giving notice to your landlord you are about to vacate the flat you’re in. Why would we do that?
“We have not given our landlord notice that we would want to vacate the property when the lease ends. Instead, the football club wants to continue its tenancy at the Higgs Centre to house the club’s Academy and has been trying to discuss a long term tenancy for our Academy at the Higgs Centre beyond 2017.”
On previous discussions with CSF, he said: “I have consistently expressed our view to Mr Breed in person and over email since I first met him last year.
“By the way, Mr Breed has confirmed to me that he is not aware of any correspondence between the football club and the Higgs Trust or Coventry Sports Foundation (CSF) from before my time that we would want to vacate the Higgs Centre.
“In fact, discussions were held with CSF not too long ago about the idea of using the Academy as part of a long term vision for the centre – e.g., the use of the club’s sports science staff as part of the community benefit mission of the Higgs Centre. The recent and costly renovation of the 3G indoor pitch only made sense under the condition that the football club remain at the Higgs Centre for some time to come.
“The Academy is at the heart of our club. I have been deeply concerned privately and now publicly that CSF or the owners of the property have not invited us to have a more formal conversation about future plans for the Centre and our intentions to remain there. We have simply been ignored.
“You can perhaps now understand my confusion at Mr Breed characterising our vacating the Higgs Centre first as a kind of done deal, then saying ‘we are exploring options’ in a press statement, and then not answering my request for information.”
‘NO PLACE FOR CCFC IN COVENTRY – A CITY OF RUGBY’
Mr Anderson also expressed further concerns about the club being shut out of Coventry. In doing so, he referred to a potential move from the Wasps-owned Ricoh to Cov rugby’s Butts Park Arena, as we first revealed last November. He also referred to a leaked council email we exclusively revealed last month which proposed blocking any Sky Blues move to the Butts.
He said today: “More broadly, we are disheartened at what has transpired and can only surmise that it has been decided that the CCFC Academy – and by implication, Coventry’s youngest and most promising athletes and their families – have no place in CSF’s plans plans for the Higgs Centre, and that this has been the case for some time. This is hard to believe, as the facility was custom designed to house our Academy and has been a terrific home for our youngsters.
“It feels as though Coventry Sports Foundation is effectively ending Coventry City Football Club’s tenancy at the Higgs Centre unilaterally. This is something which I, the football club, our supporters, and I suspect the Coventry community at large, will find difficult to understand.
“I am not privy to all the political and legal manoeuvrings and can only speak for the football club. But when you take into account the broader context of what has happened to the stadium that was built for the football club, the recently unearthed email by a Council employee about the Butts Park Arena, and now the Academy training centre, as the person running the football club day to day, it does at times feel like there is no place for CCFC in Coventry.
“All the while we are seeing concerted efforts being made to turn Coventry into a CIty of Rugby, it is becoming ever more difficult for the football club to operate in the community whose name it bears.
“This is exactly what shouldn’t be happening, and t think we should all take a step back and think about what the football club means as a business and community asset. For one, football is the most popular sport in the country and this city, and I can’t imagine that the decision makers in this community would want Coventry to be known as the city that evicted its football club. I also can’t imagine that the community that came together to honour Jimmy Hill at Coventry Cathedral would really want Coventry to be the city known for making it impossible for the football club to continue training and playing the game we love. There must be a reasonable way forward, and the football club is ready to be part of finding a solution.
“We are releasing our new kits for the 2016/17 season today. I would ask readers to take a look at the players in the images to promote the kits. They are worn by Coventry City footballers, kids born and raised in Coventry. We should be proud of them and all the hard work they’ve done and the sacrifices their parents have made. Who would not want them in the heart of this community?”
Paul Breed, Chief Executive of the Coventry Sports Foundation, said: “We have had two letters from the football club in recent weeks. We have responded to the first, and the second one is with our directors for consideration while I am away on leave, before we send a reply. We did have a meeting in the diary which Chris had to cancel, and I have asked him if we could reschedule. I have not had a response but hopefully we will.
“The football club has – on the record – made it plain over recent years that it planned to move to a custom built complex including an academy and expressed that view to me in meetings so we have, naturally, worked on that basis. That is partially why agreements were framed to end this summer.
“I was told last March (2015) by a senior official of the club that CCFC was planning to move to a new site and would not be staying at the Higgs Centre for the long term – that was in the same month that the club was discussing with Rugby Borough Council a possible to move to that area. That is no secret – miles of newsprint have been dedicated to that story.
“The Higgs Centre, which we have actually only owned since this March, was built with charity money to be a community sports and leisure facility and we have a responsibility to ensure its successful future.”
Mr Anderson responded: “We welcome Mr Breed’s swift response, albeit in a public forum. We are keen to learn what CSF’s plans are for the future of our Academy at the Higgs Centre.”