September 29th, 2016

SAVE OUR CITY: Our new campaign on Coventry City academy & stadium

THE Observer’s ‘Save Our City’ campaign – launched today – calls on the city of Coventry to focus on keeping our cherished 133-year-old football club – and its vital youth academy.

Coventry City F.C’s managing director Chris Anderson rightly states it appears the club bearing the city’s name is being squeezed out of Coventry, with rugby newcomers Wasps taking priority.

Coventry’s authorities must not renege on the city being for ‘all sports’, which must include the Sky Blues.

Jonathan Strange, biographer of 1987 FA Cup hero Keith Houchen and Coventry City Supporters’ Consultative Group chairman, articulates (on this website two days ago) why the city must do more to support its historic sporting pillars, the Sky Blues and Coventry rugby club – both much valued by all who have cared through the generations.

Fans’ group the Sky Blue Trust has also launched an @SaveOurAcademy campaign.

The Alan Higgs Centre-based academy is not just the struggling club’s lifeblood, producing stars like Callum Wilson and James Maddison. It’s where thousands of youngsters develop and form identities with their local club.

In 2014, then ‘London Wasps’ were gifted the Ricoh Arena by Coventry City Council and Alan Edward Higgs Charity on a huge 250-year lease not offered to the Sky Blues it was built for – a decision involving taxpayers’ money rightly open to legal challenge.

Last week, Wasps submitted a detailed council planning application to move in to the purpose-built football club academy’s home, where there are also plans for a council-supported 50-metre swimming pool.

Wasps’ planning documents fail to state how the football club’s academy would survive.

Despite some claims, we can today reveal leaked emails to the football club and others prove Mr Anderson’s claims the Sky Blues HAD repeatedly sought talks over staying at the centre after a lease expires next June.

Paul Breed, of the centre’s operators the Coventry Sports Foundation, re-iterated in an April 28 email that the club’s academy arrangements WOULD expire next June, while he offered “assisting the club to find an alternative accommodation of their Academy facilities especially if they were to be located within the city.”

On Sunday (June 5) he wrote to “confirm that The Foundation will not be intending to extend any of the current arrangements in relation to the Academy’s location at The Alan Higgs Centre site beyond their expiry dates of 30th June 2017.”

Our campaign calls on the council, the club’s owners and all relevant institutions to support:

1. Keeping the successful Sky Blues academy with all current ‘Category 2 excellence’ facilities in Coventry.

2. Keeping the Sky Blues in Coventry at a stadium which makes the club more financially viable, benefiting from around-the-clock commercial stadium revenues currently going to Wasps, and keeping an OPEN MIND on potential options.

We exclusively revealed last November alternative proposals to groundshare with Cov rugby at an expanded 15-25,000 Butts Park Arena. We also revealed a council email in January proposed blocking the Butts move.

As with previous club and stadium owners – there appears to be an unviable economic conflict of interest at the Wasps-owned Ricoh.

The Sky Blues as tenants claim they received a paltry circa £75,000 in matchday revenues last season, with the rest going to indebted Wasps.

It appears this conflict of interest won’t be resolved were Wasps to acquire ownership of everything including CCFC, as some mysteriously believe might happen.

A sale by owners Sisu of the currently valueless club seems even less likely than in 2013, when attempts to oust them through a hopefully not-to-be-repeated damaging administration process failed.