3rd Dec, 2016

BREAKING: Coventry City call on Wasps to reconsider academy move as campaign launched

Les Reid 7th Jun, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

COVENTRY City are calling on Wasps to reconsider a planning application for a training facility at the purpose-built Higgs Centre base of the football club’s academy.

It comes as the fans’ group Sky Blue Trust has today launched a campaign to Save The Academy.

This newspaper revealed last month in an exclusive interview with CCFC managing director Chris Anderson that he had recently been informed in writing by the centre’s operators, the Coventry Sports Foundation, that the club would have to leave the centre next June when a lease expires.

The planning application was lodged by Wasps with the council last Wednesday for the centre in Allard Way, where there are also Coventry City Council-backed plans for a 50 metre swimming pool.

Wasps have since claimed the football club could use their new indoor facilities, if they get approval.

But Mr Anderson has said it is unclear whether there would be any suitable space for the club’s vital academy – which has produced young talent such as Callum Wilson and James Maddison, and is a centre of excellence for schoolchildren and the city’s youthful talent.

Mr Anderson has recently claimed it feels as though the club is being ‘squeezed out of the city which bears its name’, with further uncertainly over proposals for the club to potentially move to a redeveloped Butts Park Arena stadium, a story first revealed by the Coventry Observer last November.

We further exclusively revealed two weeks ago a Coventry City Council leaked email which proposed blocking any such move, which would see the club groundsharing with Coventry Rugby Football Club at a stadium of between 15,000 and 25,000 capacity.

The council and Alan Edward Higgs Charity sold the Ricoh Arena, built for the football club, to rugby club London Wasps in October 2014. The football club says as tenants it continues to be deprived of vital commercial stadium revenues from activities on matchdays and non-matchdays.

CCFC have today called on Wasps to reconsider the planning application and instead work with the football club.

Mr Anderson is also calling on the city’s authorities to see Coventry as a city of ‘all sports’, and to not simply favour rugby.

The Sky Blues official response to the Alan Higgs Centre plans on its website reads…

Background
 
Coventry City Football Club has been part of Coventry’s social, economic, and cultural life since 1883. Originally founded as Singers FC by employees of the cycle firm Singer, the club has been the home of some of Coventry’s greatest athletes and most celebrated sporting triumphs. The club’s future in Coventry proper is currently threatened by of the transfer of elite sporting assets to Wasps Rugby Football Club.
While CCFC has been a proud contributing member of the Coventry community for almost 133 years, Wasps, a rugby club based in London for most of its history, has been a member of the local sporting community for less than 2 years. In that very short period of time, Wasps have acquired a world-class football stadium built for Coventry City Football Club. They are now looking to become the long-term tenants of a training facility built for Coventry City’s youth academy.
The Alan E Higgs Centre
The Alan E Higgs Centre was designed and built to house the football club’s youth Academy. Over many years, that Academy has produced some of England’s best football talent. The Academy is not only the pride and joy of Coventry’s football fans, but also a cornerstone of the club’s recruitment and business model.
The Academy’s lease ends in June 2017. Despite repeated efforts to achieve an extension of that lease by the football club, the organisation that manages and operates the facility on behalf of the owners (Coventry Sports Foundation, CSF) has decided to terminate the current lease when it expires.
Instead of facilitating the development of elite young footballers from Coventry, Coventry Sports Foundation (the operator of the Higgs Centre) has invited Wasps RFC to take over the training centre. In so doing, Coventry Sports Foundation are displacing the club’s famed youth Academy – one of the best performing in all of football – in the full knowledge that the Academy has no alternative home to move to.
This has potentially wide ranging implications for the club and the development of elite footballers in Coventry. Because the stringent requirements for maintaining an elite football academy can only be met in a facility of the highest quality with very specific access, pitch, and facility characteristics, Coventry Sports Foundation’s decision to invite Wasps RFC to become the tenant at the Higgs Centre will not only make the football club’s youth academy homeless but also, by implication, make it less likely that it will survive in its current form. It is not clear to us why such a drastic step has been taken, but it can be remedied.
Wasps have publicly acknowledged that they considered 20 different sites for locating their training facility before deciding on the Higgs Centre. They must be aware that moving into the Higgs Centre has the potential to displace the football club’s academy and possibly spell the end of elite youth football in Coventry altogether. We therefore believe Wasps’ planning application is ill timed because it is premature.
Practically speaking, the football club’s needs according to the Elite Player Performance Plan mandated by the Premier League are unlikely to be met simply by erecting an indoor facility and making it available to the football club. Furthermore, Wasps’ planning application raises important questions about sports policy in Coventry generally. There is no mention of another sport – football or otherwise –in the planning document. So far as we can determine, Wasps’ plans will not only displace the football club’s academy, it will also displace netball facilities currently being used at the Higgs Centre. We believe Wasps’ planning application to be flawed and incomplete because it disregards the specific needs of other sports.
Finally, as a matter of policy, we do not believe that a sporting organisation with less than two years residence in Coventry should be given priority by Coventry Sports Foundation over a football club with more than a century of residence and rich history as a community institution. We therefore believe that Wasps’ planning application is ill advised.
We ask Wasps to reconsider the planning application as a sign of goodwill and good neighborly intentions. This will allow all interested parties a chance to sit down with Coventry Sports Foundation and Sport England to work out an agreement over the use of the Higgs Centre beyond 2017.
Coventry, A City of Football
Coventry is a city of football. Coventry City Football Club has been at the forefront of some of the community’s greatest sporting triumphs. It also has been the hub for training some of Coventry’s most famous athletes and developing the game from the grass roots all the way to the professional level. Last year alone – playing in England’s 3rd division, the club attracted around 300,000 spectators to the Ricoh Arena. The club’s youth Academy was recently ranked 5th out of 72 clubs in the Football League and 10th out of all 92 clubs, including the Premier League. Sky Blues In the Community (SBITC) – the club’s community arm – plays a key role in the development of the game at the grass roots, and is involved in a variety of projects to improve the lives of children and adults in the.
In 2015 alone, SBITC worked on well over 100 projects that involved 34,000 participants well over 400,000 contact hours all across Coventry and Warwickshire, addressing needs in the areas of sport, health, education, and inclusion.
We applaud the efforts of public authorities to make sport a corner stone of policy in the city, and we have noted the concerted and public efforts behind the City of Rugby concept. We also commend the effort to bundle resources to achieve a more coherent place for any one sport in the city. Given the prominence of football in Coventry’s social and cultural fabric, we strongly encourage the Council to make football and other sports a cornerstone of the city’s sporting vision as well.
In a city of Coventry’s size, history, and composition, a policy to develop “a more active, inclusive and vibrant Coventry through positive experiences in sport” must include the city’s pre-eminent football club.
To contribute to Coventry becoming a City of Sport, we are prepared to help lead the effort. Specifically, we offer the resources and know how of Sky Blues in the Community to help develop the concept of grass roots football and other sports development. To help fast track this initiative symbolically and practically, we also are prepared to move all football operations, including our 1st team training base to the Higgs Centre and therefore into the city of Coventry.
Football is the world’s most popular and widely played sport. Coventry is a city of football. When it comes to sport, Coventry City Football Club should be at the heart of the city of Coventry’s past and present, and hopefully also its future.