Grounds for change - future of Coventry City debated in Westminster

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Local MPs were out in force at a Westminster Hall debate called by Marcus Jones MP, to discuss the future of Coventry City. City fans were represented by Sky Blue Trust Chair Moz Baker and spokesperson for the Jimmy Hill Way campaign David Johnson (pictured) 

Supporters remain understandably anxious as they remain on the outside of a long running dispute involving SISU Capital, Coventry City Council and Wasps Rugby Club, which threatens not just where the club will play but its existence. 

Coventry City Supporters Trust who have been campaigning hard to ensure a suitable long term solution for the club in Coventry are particularly concerned that the EFL may be forced to consent that Coventry City play outside of Coventry again following the disastrous situation when the club played at Northampton Town in 2013. The EFL Board would need to vote for the club to play outside of Coventry; an unenviable decision if no resolution can be found for the Ricoh Arena, which appears the only sensible place for the club to play to meet EFL criteria.  

Although an extension for the club to play next season at the Ricoh has been confirmed, the real challenge is to find a long term solution with a mediation process planned for next month. 

Everyone in the Trust movement wants to see a positive outcome for Coventry supporters, but there is extra interest to ensure some of the mistakes that have been made can’t be repeated elsewhere, with analysis looking back much further to the mistakes that came from the sale of Highfield Road.
SD believes that there remains a lack of regulatory protection within football as well as statutory weaknesses in relation to protecting important football and community assets. Sadly there remain a number of clubs, supporters and communities all battling problems related to their ground today right through the pyramid from AFC Bournemouth to Bolton, Dulwich Hamlet to Basingstoke Town. 

As part of the report to support the Fans Not Numbers campaign last year, SD put forward some recommendations relevant to club stadia and other property which included:

  • Tightening of FA and league rules in relation to grounds which allow too much scope for speculation on the development potential of club property, in particular their stadia, which need to be made more restrictive.

  • Regulations should be modified so that formal consent is required from the regulator not only for a club to relocate its ground but also for any “proposed change in its circumstances relating to the occupation of its ground”. Changes in circumstances should include the sale, transfer or assignment of any material part of the site and should also include any proposal to pledge the ground as security. Consent would be conditional, inter alia, on the club being fully compliant with best practice on stewardship as recommended elsewhere.

  • The requirement for consent to be extended to all the club’s property assets, for example including training grounds and academy facilities. These occasionally do have redevelopment potential and, before any consent is granted, the league or FA should be satisfied that the club has made appropriate commitments to replace the facility and that any surplus will be retained within the club and not distributed to the owner(s).

  • A club would have to have the same rights of occupancy for a new facility as it had for the old: for example it would be unacceptable for it to be foregoing freehold title to its former stadium in exchange for a leasehold interest in a new stadium paying rent, say, to the club owner.

  • There might be an absolute prohibition on offering club property as security unless in connection with a capital expenditure project, for example the construction of a new stand. The terms of any consents granted under these requirements should be publicised.

Its time for all parties to come together to discuss and implement changes to stop the same asset related problems being allowed to escalate to the like we are seeing in Coventry. 

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