If you’ve followed my writing here on We Are Going Up this season then you’ll know I’m normally a bit of a rabble rouser for the Coventry City cause, with an *ahem* incredibly clever turn of phrase to lift spirits here, and a shard of mindless optimism to divert the soul from the realities of a club in self-imposed freefall there.
But for this week at least it’s time to get serious, for City have just been cruelly beaten 4-2 by table toppers Southampton to find themselves (at the time of writing) four points adrift at the bottom of the table, with a mounting injury list and a broad undercurrent of simmering dissent just threatening to boil over.
To be completely frank, at the present time Coventry City look like a side coldly and clinically destined for the drop, and unsurprisingly the mood amongst City fans is of a similar manner: coldly and clinically bleak, a certain exasperation and helplessness ruminating strongly from shouts of “Thorn out” or “**** SISU”.
Whilst it is never time to give in and the fighting spirit of the majority of City’s players cannot be called into question; is it perhaps time to think on, come to terms with the club’s possible fate and start learning the right lessons now?
I think so, and the first place Coventry should be looking to for a bit of tutelage on all matters self implosion are those Saintly conquerors from Saturday just passed.
It’s easy to compare the Sky Blues and the Saints. Similarly sized clubs from similarly sized cities who, during a long co-existence in the top flight were bound by perpetual struggle, often to be found squabbling over the same precarious positions which year after year separated another season of the same from the trap door of unthinkable oblivion. Whilst the Middlesbrough’s and the Bolton’s yo-yo’d; Coventry and Southampton played Premier League football in compact little grounds nestled amongst the rooftops of Edwardian residential areas, with the knowledge of a wider cult appeal, proud FA Cup heritage and the occasional giant killing keeping the half-time teas warm.
But aside from these cosier, cuddlier common grounds, both clubs too shared harsher similarities.
Both clubs felt the full blight of financial mismanagement and wider boardroom incompetence, and each struggled to adapt to the changes taking place on the business side of English football, in the event simply milking the boom that followed the formative years of the Premier League but without ever really having the dexterity of thought to put any proper contingency in place to make that existence sustainable. Yes, both clubs built new stadiums, but on what kind of foundation?
Granted, the two clubs weren’t the only former top flight institutions to fall victim to this phenomenon, and it would be unfair to suggest that all of the blame rests solely on internal inadequacies. Indeed, you only have to look at Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest, Derby County or perhaps most explosively, Leeds United, to see other former big names that have spluttered their way half dead into the wayside. But the ultimate truth is that either a lack of foresight, a wealth of complacency or indeed both has had huge ramifications on the way in which the past ten years have gone for both Coventry City and Southampton.
What sets Southampton apart from all others is the way that they have bounced back from their demise, arresting the slide and orchestrating the resurgence that they now enjoy. In the South coast club’s success Coventry City – as perhaps the last of the former top flight clubs likely to fall in such a way – can find key lessons.
The key to Southampton’s revival is twofold. A bit of luck in acquiring a stable boardroom and a good financial backing under the estate of their late saviour and benefactor Markus Liebherr, but also – and particularly relevant to City fans now – a sensible, humble and pragmatic fanbase, perhaps prone to constructive activism but not to anarchic revolt.
I’m not going to suggest that City’s owners SISU have covered themselves in glory during their time in charge and I certainly have my grievances with them. There is absolutely no doubt that the draconian and overly zealous tactics they took to in order to suppress the freedom of speech amongst City’s support and a lack of communication from them in a wider sense, was, if not an insight into how out of their depth they are as owners of a football club, a misguided and unbecoming show of petulance from a set of people who should be doing everything they can to ensure they have the trust of their public.
That said, we must also seek to remember that it was this group which saved City from administration at the eleventh hour when they took over the club in 2007, and in doing so were then obliged to take on the messes and debts incurred after years of outdated thinking at board level. Put simply, if the ship had been left in better shape, Coventry would have attracted better investment.
SISU, as a investment hedge fund, are in the business of risk taking. You can make up your own minds on the ethics of that but the reality is that this is business; they own the club and they have the legal right to do whatever they want with it. Clearly City were a risk in 2007 as they would be today for anyone taking them over, like they are currently for SISU, who at this time clearly still believe that they are the right people to own and run the club, as the rejection of the bid led by former director Gary Hoffmann proved.
There will have been an element of financially motivated self-preservation in that decision, obviously. SISU and their investors have put a lot of money into the CCFC project, mostly up to this point plugging the gaping cash gaps left for them by the previous regimes and they won’t want to squander that investment. They will believe they can turn the situation around and rest assured, for whatever reason – and it’s probably not thanks to a love of the club – they won’t want to see their efforts fail.
From my point of view, it is in SISU’s interests not to allow the club to implode upon itself. Their reputation in the City of London and in the financial markets of the World will be heavily damaged if they allow such a public failure of a well loved sporting institution, especially in the current climate of distrust of financial types under such spotlight their shortcomings would be exposed under.
So on that basis, and perhaps I’m naive, I still trust SISU and their investors to either put things right in the long term, or to act in the best interests of the club should they find themselves out of ideas and take a hit in order to offload to new faces, and preserve.
The question really for every single City fan right now is can YOU trust them in that light, or not? It’s up to you individually – and I really wouldn’t want to influence that individual choice too much – but do heed the lessons of Southampton and their supporters through backing your club and the people you trust within it. Don’t light the tinder box, don’t be thoughtless in your protest and do put the right pressure on in the right places according to your personal feelings. Above all else, until all hope is gone, have eternal faith that one day things will turn around.
Have fortitude, have resolve and keep believing. You always have a stake in Coventry City.
Written by Paul Martin, We Are Going Up’s Coventry City Blogger