Competition for the prize for last season’s biggest crisis club was one of the most hotly contested and morbidly gripping tussles up and down the divisions. Portsmouth provided the latest, and hopefully final, volume in their beginners guide to self-destruction whilst Aldershot Town tore up two decades worth of progress following liquidation to leave themselves with a sinking feeling of deja vu. Both offered a credible challenge to Harry Redknapp’s QPR as they wrote themselves a tragic-comedy about highly paid superstars on the road to ruin, but Coventry City surely offered up the most absorbing page-turner. With the new season’s fixtures still warm from the presses and the club yet to confirm a home ground for next year, the Sky Blues are looking a good bet to be the critics’ choice once again.
With the opening weekend barely a month away, the Football League announced this week that Coventry will play their home games over thirty miles outside of the city in Northampton, an arrangement that has already drawn an angry reaction from fans unwilling to pay for the privilege of spending an hour on the M1 every other weekend in addition to the usual rising match day costs. The demands being made by the club of its fans have the feel of an outfit with its back to the wall – its hands tied by circumstance, the next inevitable victim of an unforgiving and blisteringly harsh financial winter. But whilst the fans may be victims, the club’s problems are the product of a flawed design stretching back over the last decade and the blame rests not with the uppity fancies of a fickle financial climate but deep within the annals of power at the club and at Football League HQ.
When the season gets under way in mid-August, not only will the Ricoh Arena stand empty in the heart of the city like a lost shoe as thousands of fans pass by on the long trip to Northampton, the great majority of those fans will remember the other stadium that was left abandoned in the name of a vision of the club’s future that has stubbornly failed to materialize. When Highfield Road was sold off to developers in 2005, the directors were in good voice, speculating loudly about prospects for the Ricoh Arena that included a key role in England’s 2006 World Cup bid and competing in finances and facilities with clubs like Leicester and Southampton, whom hindsight has taught us have taken a more realistic perspective on their prospects from the start. Even the old ground’s parking facilities were held up as a reason for forcing a move to more illustrious digs. Dodgy parking and a long walk to the ground on match days will seem a longed-for memory now to those fans who face a sixty mile round trip on home weekends.