It’s debatable whether Coventry City are the most depressing club in England, but they’ve got to be up there at the moment. Yes, they won the Cup in ’87, but Coventry fans under 30 won’t remember much about that, and since then the Sky Blues have been painting a horrifically bleak landscape. Think ‘The Road‘ but bleaker. This is a Club that has been dying for over a decade.
For a while it was happening so slowly it was easy to ignore and pretend that everything was ok. But, everything is not ok. The Football League has just given consent for Coventry to play their home fixtures at Northampton Town, about 35 miles away. Coventry have been forced to explore such options because they’ve been booted out of their previous home, the Ricoh Arena, due to unpaid rent.
The Ricoh – Coventry’s home since 2005 – started out as Coventry’s brave new world. The logic was that you need a new stadium to make more money, and the bigger the better – former Chairman Bryan Richardson’s initial plan was for a 45,000 seat monster with a sliding roof. But, Richardson’s insane superdome vision was never realised. Coventry were relegated from the top flight in 2001 and without Premier League revenues the plans had to be scaled down. Who’d have thought a team that had been flirting with relegation since the dawn of man would actually get relegated one day.
So, Coventry fans ended up with the Ricoh Arena. They used to play at Highfield Road, a functional football ground that seemed adequately sized for their crowds (23,500 capacity). The Ricoh Arena is a 32,000 capacity identabowl located just off an M6 slip road. It might technically be in Coventry, but you’d never be able to tell. You could be in a retail park on the outskirts of any town in the UK. It is without question the worst stadium I have ever been to.
It’s bad enough being forced to leave your old ground for no good reason. But, Coventry fans had been promised a better life. Imagine how cheated they must have felt rolling up to their new home that first time. I’m sure many tried to convince themselves that it would be ok – you’d have to try – but deep down they knew. The Ricoh was basically a huge bottle of snake oil. They’d been done.
Like I said – bleak. But, at least they still had a stadium they could just about call ‘home’. Now they’ve been turfed out of that hell hole because they can’t afford the rent. So, Coventry moved from their perfectly adequate old ground to make more money, and end up being being forced out of their new stadium because they’re broke. The irony will not be lost on Coventry fans – at least, not the ones who caught whiff of the rotten smell when the new stadium was first mooted.
If this was your club, at what point would you ask yourself, can I still be bothered? Given what Coventry fans have been through, I’m not sure I could. I think I’d start to feel genuinely paranoid that football was taking the piss out of me. It’s not the done thing in football to talk about throwing in the towel – the fans are the only thing that matter, and all that. But, when your club’s been so royally fucked over that it’s barely recognisable, what’s left for the fans?
Something similar could have happened to me and my club. Watford were taking the highway to hell under their previous owner, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Thankfully – and I do give thanks every day to Signor Pozzo – the future is looking much brighter, but other clubs have not been so lucky. And that seems to be all it comes down to: the luck of having a sensible owner or a crazy one. This will keep happening, of course, because despite numerous warnings, governance in football remains ludicrously slack. Coventry are not alone in their suffering, but still I feel their tale is more horrifying than most, because it’s been such an agonizing spiral of death. It just keeps getting worse.