Football without fans is nothing

Ahead of the FA Cup clash on Friday 8/11, we invited the Sky Blues Trust to tell us their side of the story behind how Coventry have ended up at Northampton against their supporters’ wishes……

When Coventry City FC was moved to Northampton, I am sure it resonated with Wimbledon fans. Indeed, The Dons Trust as owners of AFC Wimbledon were one of the first to come to our support, publishing a statement condemning the poor decision making ‘process’ of The Football League that resulted in our exile.

Although of course there are differences – Wimbledon’s move was the death knell and was authorised by an FA Commission (though with equally empty arguments to justify it) – our Club has been separated from its community. The fact that there is no indication as to when, or if, it will be brought back, sort of makes it worse; it’s the not knowing. Sadly the Football League continues to sit by and talk about ‘integrity’ – which they really only concern themselves with making sure that their fixtures are fulfilled.

As so often in football, the story’s roots are in money. In Coventry’s case though, it has become a power struggle over control of the stadium. Ostensibly, the dispute at the heart of the issue is about the “rent” paid by the club to the stadium operators. No one is arguing on either side that it wasn’t too much. But when one side is prepared to compromise, and the other isn’t, you start to wonder if there’s another reason behind a refusal to pay for over a year (despite a High Court order) while negotiations took place.

Recent events, particularly statements by the club’s ultimate owner, Joy Seppala, have made it clear. What she wants is the stadium at as low a price as possible, and is willing to use the Sky Blues as a hostage to force the sale. So the team deserts a state of the art ground, playing in front of eleven or twelve thousand, to share one 35 miles away, watched by under 2,000. More Coventry City fans now go to their team’s away games, than watch at “home”.

And the final irony is that the team of young players, many having come through the club’s academy, are storming up the league, and playing the kind of exciting football you’ll see at Kingsmeadow – or at least we hope we’ll see it!

For fans who saw what happened to Wimbledon, we had always been led to believe that the circumstances were ‘unique’, and it couldn’t happen to anyone else. Well, permanent or not, it has, and it’s once more a fight initiated by people who have power against people who have little: a club which is owned by people who are not concerned with its history, its traditions, its importance to the local area, and instead are determined to screw down the conditions on a commercial deal because they have a commercial interest for being there and need to make good on all the money they lost running it badly. You just have to read the report of the meeting that we had with The Football League a few weeks ago to realise that the stable door is still swinging in the wind and that the ‘rules’ can always be ‘relaxed’ if the Board of the League choose to.

The Sky Blue Trust and Coventry City fans everywhere are the only people putting pressure on the different sides to get the team “sent back to Coventry”. And we’ll continue the fight, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because we also look at a club like Wimbledon, and clubs like Wycombe, Portsmouth and Exeter City, and we want some of that stability. We don’t want to wake up one morning and hear that the Club’s been moved – permanently or temporarily – to make up for the owner’s inability to negotiate like an adult.

We’ll do it because the old saying still holds true: Football without fans is nothing.

John Fletcher, Chair, The Sky Blues Trust