A COVENTRY MP is backing the Coventry Observer’s Save Our City campaign call for all sides to end the dispute which is damaging the city’s 133-year-old football club.
It comes as one option for the Sky Blues to move to an expanded Butts Park Arena home of Coventry rugby club of up to 25,000 capacity reaches a crunch stage.
Our campaign has for months called on the city authorities and others to finally work towards a fair deal for the Sky Blues over its need for vital stadium revenues and a lifeblood youth academy, whoever the club’s owner in future (barring any being deemed ‘unfit and unproper’).
Our call for a fair deal – following Coventry City Council’s and Alan Edward Higgs Charity’s sale of the Ricoh Arena to rugby club London Wasps in 2014 on a 250-year cut-price deal not offered to the football club – was also supported last year by some fans’ organisations, professional supporters and other fans in an Open Letter to the council , government and Wasps.
Amid a renewed campaign by some against the club’s parent company Sisu, Labour MP Jim Cunningham in Parliament earlier this month called for Sisu to sell up after a “toxic legacy” of nine years if they were unwilling to take part in talks to secure the club’s future in Coventry.
His Labour colleagues leading the council have called on Sisu to drop legal action against the council over the Wasps and other secret council deals before any kind of relationship can be re-established.
Ricoh Arena owners Wasps have also called off talks with their Sky Blue tenants over long-term dual occupancy after 2018, citing Sisu’s legal action as the reason.
But Coventry City’s chairman, Tim Fisher, has said there is a “political embargo” preventing the club progressing towards having a stadium, stating the club’s preferred option is a groundshare at an expanded Butts Park Arena.
This newspaper had exposed a leaked council email which proposed to block the rugby club’s expansion plans if it involved any professional football being played there for 125 years.
We have also exposed how the Butts head lease owner Chris Millerchip – who also threatened to block the plan unless Sisu legal action against the council is dropped – is funding the council and Wasps backed ‘Coventry – a City of Rugby’ project.
Cov rugby chairman Jon Sharp is hoping to finalise the transfer of the head lease to him by the end of this month, without any threatened Millerchip clauses which might block the football club.
There are now concerns the council may try to block the proposal in what is supposed to be a ‘quasi-judicial’ planning process without any biased political interference.
Even ‘anti Sisu’ fans’ group Sky Blue Trust leaders have accepted the Butts proposal should be explored as one option.
Our Save Our City campaign is calling on the politicians and Sisu to working towards multi-party progress, with the legal issues at least initially put to one side. Some accept any entity has the right to legally challenge a council decision just as the council has a legal right to defend it – and that expecting one side to cave in or ‘lay down their arms’ rarely resolves long and bitter disputes.
Mr Cunningham has now proposed Damian Collins MP, chair of the Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee as a mediator.
Mr Cunningham said: “We need someone of good repute who will act as a mediator to try and break the stalemate.
“Damian Collins MP is in a highly influential position and he is very well informed about football governance and the background to the situation in Coventry.
“I am pleased that he has offered to act as mediator to try to bring both sides of this dispute together.”
He clarified with the Observer: “I am not simply calling for talks between Wasps and Sisu (over the Ricoh). That would make no sense. I am calling for talks between any and all parties involved – including the council – to resolve this dispute.”
He reiterated it should include discussing the Butts proposal if necessary.
It appears unlikely Sisu would accept Mr Collins as a neutral mediator, given the MP’s implied criticisms and his call for the football authorities to act against football owners by widening the terms of its so-called ‘unfit and unproper’ rules against football club owners.
It comes as fans’ leaders at the Fighting The Jimmy Hill Way Alliance claimed success for their latest ‘Sisu Out’ protests.
Various estimates of 1000 to 2,500 fans joined a march before Saturday’s game against Rochdale, but calls for a high-profile fans’ boycott of the game which would have further damaged the club appeared to backfire.
Only around 100 boycotters remained outside the ground at kick-off where the official attendance was around 8,000 Sky Blues fans, the same as the previous home game.
The group’s Moz Baker claimed the official crowd figure included at least 1000 season ticket holders who stayed away.
He said police had estimated 2,500 joined the march, but the police told us they did not make such official estimates, while BBC journalist Martin Winch estimated around 1000 had done so shortly before kick off.
Many others fans on social media voiced support for our campaign call in response to our opinion piece on our website last week – for pressure on ALL sides to end the multi-party dispute.
Many have stated they do not believe Sisu will respond to the one-sided protests – which has no clear takeover plan – by putting the club up for sale.
* See the Coventry Observer website for more.