No blue skies for Sky Blues

by Mark Godfrey

Coventry CityCoventry City have become the latest English League club to hit a financial brick wall as their plight has reached a critical point.

Founder members of the Premier League back in 1992, the Sky Blues were renowned for their ability to defy the odds and remain at football’s top table for so many years without experiencing the dreaded drop. But after a 34 year stint, Coventry finally fell into the Football League in 2001.

In line with the trend encountered by many other clubs to have dropped out of the Premier League, the financial implications of relegation are monumental. Without the preposterous amounts of Sky TV money to prop up the club’s runaway outgoings, the outcome can be catastrophic.

Despite parachute payments and cost-cutting exercises since their demotion at the turn of the century, City have regularly flirted with administration. From 2001 to 2004, as the club teetered on the brink of collapse, a fire sale of players and a reduction of the stratospheric wage bill reduced debt and averted the need for High Court intervention.

Having avoided administration once, the Sky Blues’ lurched from one crisis to another as manager after manager were accompanied by boardroom instability and turmoil. The move from Highfield Road to the Ricoh Arena in 2005 was seen as a new beginning to bring world class football to match Coventry’s brand new world class facilities.

However, the continuing revolving door policy for managers and board members and a nose-dive in player quality have left the club languishing in third tier football for the first time in 48 years. An uncertain start to their new life in League 1 brought Mark Robins into the hotseat, if only briefly, and an upturn in fortunes currently sees the Sky Blues on the periphery of the play-off picture.

But just as the team have recovered, it’s the off-field issues that have spiralled out of control in recent weeks. An acceleration in the club’s financial distress saw the players and staff move their offices out of the Ricoh Arena last week and with huge rent arrears owed to the stadium’s owners it is likely, for the short term at least, the Coventry have played their last game in the home they’ve had for such a short period.

Uncertainty surrounds where exactly they will play their three remaining home games this season, with Birmingham City’s St.Andrews and Walsall’s Banks Stadium having been mooted as potential venues for the game with league leaders Doncaster Rovers on Friday.

Before then, Coventry face another trip to the High Court to clarify the position as part of the club has been already placed into administration. The court appointment could determine whether they are handed an instant 10-point deduction which would end any faint hopes of a place in the play-offs.

After such a long slide into financial calamity, the future looks bleak for the Sky Blues. Living beyond their means for so long is now taking what could be a terminal toll on their very survival prospects. The instability amongst those who run the club and the team, allied to the crippling costs of their tenancy agreement at their new stadium have left the supporters uncertain whether or not they will even have a club to follow at the beginning of next season.

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