RUGBY club Wasps proposed putting in millions of pounds in another failed plot to take over Coventry City while locking them out of the Ricoh Arena, a former would-be consortium member has told the Coventry Observer.
Other sources close to the consortium have also made unconfirmed claims that members of the Coventry City of Culture Trust – who sit on its board alongside Coventry City Council leaders – had been involved.
Multi-millionaire Richard Overson and fan of Coventry City – who have now been shut out of the Ricoh Arena by owners Wasps – pulled out of the proposed CCFC takeover consortium headed by ex-Coventry City vice-chairman Gary Hoffman because of Wasps’ involvement.
He said: “I came out because London Wasps were involved. I’ve never been a fan of them from day one.
“I’ve never been happy with Wasps playing at the Ricoh Arena and being in Coventry.”
Wasps have denied claims made by Coventry City owner Sisu boss Joy Seppala in a Sky Sports News interview this week that they wanted to take over the football club, which is now preparing to play home matches at Birmingham City.
The rugby club claims its involvement was limited to discussions following approaches from people interested in taking over the club.
Mr Overson said his purpose was not to reveal confidential details including about parties involved in the consortium, which had a bid said to be worth £7million rejected in April.
But asked by the Coventry Observer if the proposal was that Wasps, or people involved at the top of Wasps, would put in money, Mr Overson told us: “I would say so, yes.
“From my involvement in the consortium my understanding was that Wasps were going to have a financial input.”
He would not say whether his understanding was that the money would come from Wasps Holdings Limited or any individuals connected with it, such as the ultimate shareholder Derek Richardson.
Sources close to the consortium have told us of proposals that Wasps would put in £5million towards a £10million bid for the club, and that Wasps would be the “Ultimate Beneficial Owner” of Coventry City Football Club.
Mr Overson would not comment on those allegations.
Unconfirmed claims from sources are that Wasps director Mark Robertson – who is also chief executive of wealth management company The Hottinger Group – was involved in the discussions.
He was appointed as a director of Wasps Holdings Limited – formerly London Wasps Holding Limited – in December last year.
Unconfirmed claims from sources close to the consortium are that two parties involved were Baljit Shergill and Roger Medwell from the Coventry City of Culture Trust.
They sit on the trust’s board with Coventry City Council leader George Duggins and council chief executive Martin Reeves.
Mr Overson pulled out at the time the bid was being prepared.
He told the Coventry Observer: “I put some money into the Coventry City season ticket initiative (for disadvantaged fans) which I thought was fantastic.
“I was asked if I was in the consortium. The next question was ‘why not?’ and I was just being honest.”
Asked by us why, he said: “I came out because London Wasps were involved.
“I’ve never been a fan of them from day one. That’s my own opinion.
“I’ve never been happy with Wasps playing at the Ricoh Arena and being in Coventry.
“As soon as it became apparent that they were involved in the consortium I stepped away.”
He added he would still be interested in being part of a consortium if at any point Sisu made clear the club was up for sale, and indicated an asking price.
Ms Seppala told Sky Sports News this week the she believed Wasps had sought to buy Coventry City Football Club.
She said this was because of the potential for “infinite” revenues were the club to be combined with the Ricoh Arena and potentially gain promotion to the Premiership. By contrast, she claimed, Wasps as a premiership rugby club (with comparatively much less money in the sport) had “topped out” with its income potential.
Wasps are £55million in debt and face having to pay back £35million of that debt to bondholders in 2022.
Coventry City personnel have previously suggested they could lose up to £2million a year – including in fans’ footfall – from losing Coventry City.
As we revealed, Sisu has claimed Wasps were insisting – as a condition for Coventry City remaining at the stadium built for it – that it must underwrite any future potential damages and losses for Wasps, including any flowing from Sisu’s Complaint to the European Commission. Such a condition is undeliverable, could bankrupt Coventry City and would remove their basic legal rights, Sisu claims.
Sisu’s complaint to the EC argues Coventry City Council’s agreement to sell the Ricoh Arena company to Wasps on a massively extended 250-year lease was an unlawful “state aid” use of taxpayers’ money under European laws, and that Wasps should pay back £28million to the council. That case has been rejected by the highest UK courts.
Nick Eastwood, Chief Executive of Wasps Group, said: “We have been approached at times by different parties who have an interest in Coventry City and its future at the Ricoh Arena. We obviously cannot reveal the identity of the parties but can say that we have not offered any financial backing to, or agreed any rent or lease deal with, any of them.
“We would simply like to see the club back playing at the Ricoh Arena, a view we believe is shared by everyone involved.”
We have approached Wasps and other parties with further questions.