Jonathan Strange, chairman of fans’ group the Coventry City Supporters Consultative Group, classical musician and biographer of Sky Blues FA Cup hero Keith Houchen, writes for the Coventry Observer ‘Save Our City’ campaign, in response to news that Coventry City Council’s planning officers are recommending councillors approve this Thursday (August 4) rugby club Wasps’ move into the Sky Blues’ lifeblood youth academy home at the Alan Higgs Centre in Allard Way.
The dice have already been thrown. Wasps are about to pass Go.
The Ricoh Arena, conceived as the home of Coventry City Football Club, is sold. Next is the development of the site of Coventry City’s academy. In a game of Monopoly, the newcomer at the table will soon have both venues in hand.
On Thursday, a planning application will probably be granted enabling the London rugby club to build a training facility at the Alan Higgs Centre. Remember, the Higgs Centre was initially developed largely for the benefit of the football club. Where will this leave Coventry City and its precious Category 2 academy when its contract expires in June 2017?
Should the displacement of the academy and its potential impact on a 133-year-old sporting business and major local institution be any less of a material planning consideration than the economic growth of Wasps?
The planning application makes no reference whatsoever to the football club’s use of the Higgs Centre. And the club, we are told, has not been consulted on any aspect of it.
Coventry City do not make up the rules over academies. The club is not in a legal position to negotiate them with Wasps or anybody else.
It may not be like the small print on a credit agreement or the schedule on your insurance policy. But there is a bottom line to this. There are prerequisites to be acknowledged and recognised.
Has the football club ever specified that it will not be seeking renewal of its contract? And why doesn’t the club receive answers to the particular questions it says it has asked?
Is there perhaps a more sinister agenda to this: to forget Jimmy Hill, the Sky Blues, 1987, even some of the more scintillating performances from Tony Mowbray’s men? Those who are rolling the dice seem to be trying to turn Coventry into Wasps City.
The football club matters. The football club’s academy matters. Never forget what the club continues to contribute to the local community and its economy, to its reputation and the enrichment of its people. Nowhere is this more vividly expressed than through the academy and the burgeoning careers carefully nurtured within its walls.
Don’t play games with the future of these young people. The city’s representatives need to look beyond their noses, beyond sheer expediency. The Coventry City academy is one of the most valuable and distinctive assets we possess.
For God’s sake, cherish and uphold it.