23rd May, 2019

OPEN LETTER to councillors: 'Raise the Sky Blue flag' and enter talks, by Coventry City biographer Jonathan Strange

Editorial Correspondent 18th Apr, 2019 Updated: 18th Apr, 2019

AN OPEN LETTER TO Councillor Duggins and Councillor Ridley, by Jonathan Strange.

‘Slow death of Coventry City is a disgrace’, thundered a recent headline in The Times. SISU’s ‘ownership of the club has been catastrophic on every level’, wrote Oliver Kay, chief football correspondent.

Gentlemen, you would agree, Labour leader and Tory leader united along with every man jack in the Council chamber.

Recently, you spurned a meeting with the minister of state attended by other major figures in the lengthy Ricoh Arena dispute, damning it as gesture politics.

Both you and Wasps have refused discussions over SISU’s conditional offer to abandon litigation. You scorn stadium plans with sleights about A4 sheets of paper.

You are feeling vindicated, no doubt, by the decision over SISU’s application to the Supreme Court. You hope – most of us probably hope – that the owners will not seek a further judgement on what they maintain the facts add up to.

Meantime, the football club has been ’phoning round to find a pitch to play on’. Coventry could soon cease to have a League club.

There must be no fiddling while Rome burns. Somewhere to play, preferably the Ricoh, is all that counts over the next few days.

I am not a local taxpayer. For well over fifty years, I have travelled from London to support the Sky Blues. The football club matters deeply to me, the city too, so let me put this parochial squabble into perspective.

The new cathedral was a towering symbol when I first visited Coventry, the surrounds still pockmarked with bomb sites. When we sang ourselves hoarse at Jimmy Hill’s memorial service, it was in celebration of the voice Jimmy Hill helped reawaken throughout this historic city in the 1960s.

When Keith Houchen launched himself across the Wembley turf in 1987, it helped rekindle dignity and panache in our national sport.

When 40,000 Coventrians twice descended on the national stadium in the last couple of years, it was as a community raw with expectation and as fans seeking a long overdue boost to our self-esteem.

When I helped start Sky Blues International, it brought together hundreds of people in dozens of countries for whom the shared interest was through one word, Coventry.

When ex-players gather for Legends Day, players and supporters tread a quilt of precious memories, memories sewn into hearts and minds way beyond the city boundaries.

When a talented young team, expertly and devotedly coached, wins 5-4 at Sunderland, it raises eyebrows beyond expediently primed national newspaper caricatures of the club’s problems.

While Coventry City and Arena Coventry Limited were negotiating a return from Northampton, the Council had long since been conniving to install Wasps at the Ricoh, and long before any so called rent strike by the football club.

The Arena was to be the new home of Coventry City. The land had originally been purchased by the club.

Now the ground belongs to Wasps. Wasps are entirely within their rights to decline the football club. Like it or not, it is also the inalienable right of SISU to pursue further litigation should they so choose. Pragmatically, the most productive way out of this impasse is through seeking a mutually creative approach to aligning the major issues.

If you do not trust SISU’s fig leaf, call their bluff. Ask SISU what they want. Encourage your friends at Wasps to reengage – for Wasps’ sake, for everyone’s sake.

When I was chairman of the former Coventry City Supporters’ Consultative Group, I sometimes received emails from fake people trying to infiltrate the group. Whether or not this was the work of Weber Shandwick, it left me wondering just how much your PR gurus were costing the taxpayer.

This is not a moment for either gesture politics or fake people. We are at the nadir, contemplating travelling God knows where to support our team. The very existence of the football club is at risk. The outside world looks on with astonishment at a grubby situation which is far from exclusively the fault of the owners.

Your antipathy towards SISU may or may not be justified, but SISU is going nowhere, certainly not imminently. Will you and Wasps still be parroting preconditions on the day of the League’s EGM?

The time has come to swallow some pride, to embrace an armistice – for the sake of Jimmy Hill, Keith Houchen, all those legends, all those supporters, and for the reputation of this city and its place in the lifeblood of the nation.

It is time for you, every one of you, to raise the Sky Blue flag.

Jonathan Strange is a lifelong Sky Blues supporter and has been an experienced supporters’ representative. He is the author of A Tenner and a Box of Kippers, The Story of Keith Houchen.

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