11th Jul, 2020

Coventry City fans call for top-level talks with Ricoh Arena owners Wasps - after meeting Sisu boss Seppala

Les Reid 3rd Mar, 2020 Updated: 3rd Mar, 2020

A GROUP of Sky Blues fans from a long-established online forum is calling for top-level talks with Ricoh Arena owners Wasps – having secured a rare meeting with Coventry City ‘owner’ Joy Seppala.

The boss of hedge fund Sisu and the club’s chief executive Dave Boddy expressed their desire to return to Coventry from Birmingham from next season, according to notes of last week’s meeting uploaded today on the Sky Blues Talk forum. The meeting covered much more ground too (see below).

Among its representatives at the meeting was Pete Griffiths, who told us Sky Blues Talk forum members were seeking to “influence all parties to talk in order to agree a sustainable medium to long-term deal for both parties that enables CCFC to play in Coventry from next season.”

They want Wasps and its ultimate shareholder Derek Richardson to sit down with City and Ms Seppala towards agreeing a way forward.

The Coventry Observer’s ‘Save Our City’ campaign has for years called for a fairer stadium and youth academy deal for Coventry City – Wasps had sought to displace the Sky Blues’ prized academy.

We have consistently insisted that ALL sides must be held responsible for the multi-party dispute damaging the Sky Blues, not just its latest owners.

Coventry City were locked out of the Ricoh Arena last year from the current 2019/20 season by owners – formerly London rugby club Wasps – who had bought the ground in a secretive deal in 2014 from Coventry City Council and the Alan Edward Higgs Charity, amid legal disputes with Sisu. The deal was not offered to the football club.

Wasps have consistently publicly said they want to ensure legal action by Sisu stops, and claim to be seeking such a pre-condition for any Coventry City return to the stadium built by and for it.

But Mr Griffiths and Sky Blues Talk forum members have recently been vociferous in challenging any false Wasps and media assertions about why Coventry City are currently playing at Birmingham City.

They have pointed to reports unchallenged by Wasps – including in the Coventry Observer since last year and in statements by CCFC and Sisu – that the football club’s owners had last year in talks agreed to drop all legal action, but Wasps had insisted they sign indemnities that would see them pay for any losses flowing from legal action.

It includes any legal action that would hypothetically flow from a legal ‘complaint’ – not court action – brought to the European Commission last February by Sisu, that the Ricoh Arena’s sale was an unlawful ‘state aid’ use of taxpayers’ money under European laws. Domestic courts had thrown out the case.

The football club and Sisu have said that such indemnities could bankrupt the football club, and could not be met. Sisu and CCFC have also maintained they have no power to withdraw the complaint to the EC, which it is dutybound to examine.

Wasps – already over £60million in debt – fear compensation claims for up to around £30million, sought in previous court action.

Coventry City are top of League One and could be promoted to the Championship if all goes well with 11 matches to play.

Wasps have maintained their door is open and are prepared to talk.

The following statement appeared on the Sky Blues Talk website today…

Following the statement issued on behalf of this forum in January by Pete Griffiths (@Sky Blue Pete), myself and Pete met with both Joy Seppala and Dave Boddy on Thursday 27th February.

We started by sharing some background information on why forum members collectively felt the need to issue the statement, such as the perception that the local press and the Sky Blues Trust did not seem to share the same viewpoint as the forum (and, indeed, much of the wider fan base) with regards to the reason for the reason the club are playing home games in Birmingham. Pete explained some of the actions already taken, both before and after the issue of the statement, such as appearances on local radio shows and meeting with other involved parties. Both Joy and Dave seemed to be aware of much of this already and commented that they had been following with interest.

We followed this up with some general discussion about the club and football in general. It was clear from the conversation that Joy does follow our games and has a genuine interest in the club. She talked passionately about players and staff, both past and present, and shared her belief that the club should be in the Premier League. She can see clearly that the club is a big part of the community, and that Mark Robins and the players put a lot of time and effort into community work and events. Year on year more work is put into the community side of the club, to a greater extent than many clubs do in the modern era, and this is something the club are committed to continuing even as we progress up the leagues.

We then moved onto a list of discussion points that myself & Pete had agreed on prior to the meeting.

Current Performance of the CCFC group – both on & off the pitch.

Like most fans, both Joy & Dave are very happy with the performances on the pitch in league one this year. Neither were surprised that the club were doing so well on the pitch this year as they have total belief in Mark Robins, the players and the recruitment team (Chris Badlan & Stuart Benthom). They feel that recruitment has been excellent since Mark Robins reappointment in 2017.

Joy & Dave both feel the team would be competitive in the Championship next year if we are promoted. They are under no illusions that it would be difficult, but we’ve competed well with Birmingham twice this year as well as Rotherham on Tuesday. Success would naturally be relative to the improved level and avoiding relegation would be considered a successful season. They commented on the teams who went up last year and how difficult it has been for them. Because we cannot compete financially with a lot of the teams in the Championship at the current time, we have to compete by being smart with recruitment, using the academy to bring young players through and maximise opportunities on player sales. Work has been put in by the recruitment department on all scenarios for next season, including being promoted to the Championship, with recruitment lists ready to go with signings within the budget irrespective of whether we are in Birmingham or Coventry (although everyone at the club & Sisu wants to be playing in Coventry).

Up to March last year CCFC were self-sufficient. Due to the better than expected crowds at St. Andrews we are doing slightly better than projected, although would still have had a deficit. With the money from the sale of Sam McCallum we should be ok, but Sisu are supportive and have agreed to underwrite any losses if necessary. If we are promoted to the Championship, CCFC would be well within the regulations within the Championship for losses allowed over a 3-year period. All financial decisions taken have been with the long-term best interests of the club at heart.

Regarding McCallum, Dave said the club would have liked to hold onto him a little longer, but pressure from the player’s agent made it very difficult to keep him on a permanent basis. After discussions with Mark Robins and looking at what they thought Sam’s potential value would be if he remained at the club and we were promoted to the Championship, the decision was taken that the move to Norwich offered good value.

We also spoke briefly about how well the James Maddison transfer has worked out for the club in the long run. Money is still coming in for James, and they have recently invoiced Norwich for some money that has become due. This is all part of the financial model for CCFC to compete, grow & succeed. Eventually we want to become the club that is receiving the big fee for our players directly.

Relationship with Wasps RFC

During their opening remarks, Joy and Dave said that they were unable to discuss any matters with regard to the possibility of a stadium deal to return to the Ricoh Arena, due to the fact that Coventry City Football Club, SISU and all Wasps Holdings companies have signed an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) prior to the discussions that commenced in April of last year. All parties are still bound by that agreement.

When asked about how long the EU complaint would take, Joy confirmed that it normally takes around 12 months for the EU to decide whether to take the case forward to review. 12 months has now passed since the complaint was filed in February 2019, however, nothing can yet be read into there not being a decision communicated at the end of the 12-month period as this is just a rough guide. Joy felt that if the case moved to review it wouldn’t necessarily be a long process if the case did move to full review. Joy also confirmed that it wasn’t possible to withdraw the complaint, as if the EU decide there is possible state aid, they would still have an obligation to pursue this. There’s no indication yet as to what effect the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will have on this case and whether it will have an impact on the EU’s decision to pursue.

Pete explained how he had been told by individuals in the media that the club were unhappy about his public questions regarding the current challenges (including the indemnity). The club have confirmed that this is categorically not the case, and that to the contrary they thought it had been useful. They acknowledged that the statement issued by Sky Blues Talk had been balanced and sought to hold all parties to account.

Pete also advised he had spoken to Nick Eastwood at Wasps, who didn’t think Joy would entertain talks with fans (by our presence this is clearly not the case). Pete had agreed with Nick that if Joy was willing to meet with him and Derek Richardson then they would also be willing to talk, and their door was always open. Dave confirmed they continue to have active dialogue with Wasps. Joy advised that throughout past talks it had been difficult to get to speak to Derek Richardson, who is the decision maker at Wasps, and that in the past he hadn’t been present at meetings as expected. Joy and Dave were both happy for Pete to go back to Nick Eastwood to see if talks can be arranged with Derek directly.

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