On 19 May 2017 representatives of the Sky Blue Trust and Supporters' Direct met senior English Football League officials, to discuss the issues relating to Coventry City Football Club. The purpose of the meeting was not to review all aspects of the troubled history of the Club over recent years but to focus on three current issues.
- the proposals of the Club to dispose of its training ground at Ryton for housing development;
- the imminent expiry of agreements for the continued operation of the Club’s Academy;
- and the expiry at the end of the 2017/18 season of the agreement for the Club to play its home matches at the Ricoh Arena.
The Trust representatives explained how each of these factors seriously threatens the Club. The huge attendance of 43,000 Coventry fans at the recent Checkatrade Trophy final at Wembley demonstrates the massive support for the Club. However, relegation to League 2 and the factors listed above threaten its very existence. The Trust representatives described how the current owners of the Club seem unable to resolve these threats.
The EFL officials responded by acknowledging the difficulties facing the Club. They expressed the view that by far the biggest issue as far as they were concerned was the future home ground for the Club, with the matter needing to be resolved. EFL rules require all clubs to play in the area from which they take their name or are traditionally associated and it was made clear that the onus is on Coventry City to inform the EFL how intends to comply with this requirement. While the EFL officials would not elaborate on the nature of their confidential discussions with the club, the officials did indicate that the club was fully aware of its obligations under the rules.
The Sky Blue Trust asked what the EFL would do if it received another application for the club to play its matches outside the City of Coventry at a future point. The EFL confirmed it would always consider any application, by any of its clubs, on its merits and could not pre-judge the issue but that any dispensation from the rules would only ever be given in exceptional circumstances and would be temporary in nature. Where granted, it would be done to help clubs achieve a permanent home in their home town or city. The EFL Officials cited the permission given to Rotherham United to play at the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield while the New York Stadium was being built as an example of this approach working successfully.
The EFL felt there were ostensibly two options for the club at this point, an extension to its lease at the Ricoh Arena or a move to a re-developed Butts Park Arena, which the club was focused on. The EFL have visited Coventry to see the Butts Park Arena and accepted that there are significant challenges turning a ground with limited facilities into a venue suitable for EFL football, not least because it required agreement to be reached between Coventry City and Coventry RFC, as well as planning consent from the local authorities. Ultimately though the EFL officials felt that this was a matter for the club rather than the League given the overriding need to comply with EFL regulations.
The EFL also indicated that it was aware of the mediation process being undertaken by Chris Heaton-Harris, at the request of the Sports Minister, and had met with him to seek to establish the purpose of his involvement. No-one knows whether that will produce a solution but the EFL has committed that it will contribute to the process wherever required in order to help achieve a successful outcome.
The Trust and SD representatives expressed understanding of the EFL’s position but urged them to do all they can to bring about a solution to the problems facing the Club to secure its long-term future in Coventry. The EFL committed to do so as it too wanted to see a thriving Coventry City at a permanent home in the City of Coventry.