RICOH Arena owners Wasps have taken charge of matchday security and control of Coventry City’s stewards for Sky Blues games – leading to further tension between the stadium’s owners, its tenant and football fans, we have learned.
The Coventry Observer understands rugby club Wasps insisted on taking over management of the stewards following disruption and protests including pitch invasions by some fans against the club’s owners, notably in December versus Sheffield United.
In recent months including after last night’s peaceful home game against Southend, some Coventry fans have taken to social media and internet forums to complain about a perceived increase in heavy handed operations.
Their stated concerns include the number of stewards for relatively small and overwhelmingly peaceful crowds, security screening and frisking at the turnstyles, and over-reactions to fans’ emotion during matches in a terrible season for the Sky Blues.
Coventry City sources have told us there is unhappiness that the stewards employed by the football club are now being directed from the control room by security management from another company, Wasps.
Some stewards, who did not want to be named, also allege their health and safety is being potentially compromised by ‘slow and inadequate’ responses by the control room to incidents they are reporting from their walkie talkies in the ground.
Some stewards also feel Wasps’ security management in the control room lack the experience of handling football operations in line with longstanding practice and procedures. Our sources said it was causing “serious concerns among the football club’s stewards.”
Many Coventry City fans have taken to Twitter after home matches in recent weeks to question the football club over what they alleged was heavy handed stewarding.
There has been no pitch incursion in recent months apart from the on-pitch celebration by hundreds of Coventry City fans at the final whistle of the Checkatrade Semi Final against Wycombe in February – for which we revealed last week Wasps company Arena Coventry Limited (ACL) had written on several occasions to the Sky Blues to demand payment for 50 per cent of expensive pitch repairs of several thousand Euros per month. ACL director Andy Gibb had alleged in writing that Sky Blues fans had “completely wrecked” and already challenged pitch. Our news of Wasps’ written demands for their pitch heating treatment provoked a derisory backlash among Coventry City fans, given the damage caused by rugby matches and in the absence of any charging of the Sky Blues for damage from football games.
Source have also told the Coventry Observer Wasps’ decision to take change of the Sky Blues’ own stewards came with support of the Safety Advisory Group, which has Coventry City Council involvement.
It is understood Wasps and the Ricoh Arena took the view that as the safety licence holder for the stadium, they needed to take control of Sky Blues matches, given the disruption.
Some fans threw tennis balls onto the Ricoh Arena pitch for another match, and one smoke bomb. More smoke bombs were used by a few Sky Blues’ fans who ran onto the Northampton pitch in protest there in January.
One poster on an internet forum said today: “Wasps basically want to run all stewarding at the Ricoh.
“… They have made the stewards’ life quite difficult, they are scrutinising everything they do, and are on their backs if they aren’t following correct procedures and are collecting evidence to try and force the club into accepting the new arrangements.”
The commenter complained that it upset him having to get “padded down when I’m going to a game with my 6 year old and 84 year old grandad. And checking my ticket going into the block seat I’ve sat in since we’ve been at the Ricoh!!”
Relations between indebted Wasps and the football club have been poor since last year when discussions over a fairer share of matchday and non-matchday revenues for the football club broke down.
Wasps have cited ongoing legal action by the Sky Blues’ parent company Sisu against Coventry City Council’s deal to sell the Ricoh to Wasps in 2014 – on favourable 250-year terms not offered to the football club – as the reason for calling off talks.
A three-year deal for the Sky Blues to play at the Ricoh expires at the end of next season and there is uncertainty over where Coventry City will play home matches. Discussions over a groundshare at the Butts Park Arena have stalled.
The football club says it received no non-matchday revenues, and a paltry £73,000 in matchday revenues last season from car parking and food and drink sales around the stadium concourse, with Wasps pocketing around 90 percent of those revenues even for Sky Blues’ matches.
Wasps have access to all the non-matchday revenues from 24/7 commercial activities, including corporate events, sponsorship, naming rights and concerts – with which they hope to make inroads in their £43million debt and ongoing annual losses from higher costs, and with success on the pitch.
Minutes of the October 7, 2014 meeting of Coventry City Council – in which councillors approved the deal to sell the Ricoh to then London Wasps Holdings Limited – show one condition of the deal had been that the football club’s “future and security” would not be compromised.
UPDATE: The Wasps-owned Ricoh Arena provided the following written response..
“The English Football League, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, West Midlands Police and Coventry City Council attended CCFC matches and expressed concern at the safety management structure.
“Two pitch incursions in six matches, and three Safety Advisory Group meetings in a month, resulted in Coventry City Council writing to our safety certificate holder, three times in a month clearly stating that unless matters changed there was the very real possibility of them issuing a prohibition notice, which would mean CCFC playing behind closed doors.
“The stewarding operation is the same, only the command and control structure has changed, which is what Coventry City Council demanded we do. We kept the club fully informed of these developments throughout this process.
“Had we not implemented these changes the club may well have been playing to an empty stadium.”