EFL postpones vote on Coventry's league status as talks reopen on Ricoh deal

Matt Slater
The Independent

A decision on Coventry’s future as a member of the English Football League has been postponed from Thursday until Wednesday 29 May, the league has announced.

The League One club had been given until 25 April to tell the league where they intend to play their home games next season, having fallen out with their landlords at the Ricoh Arena for the second time in six years.

But with the Sky Blues losing to Portsmouth on Monday, there is now little chance of them reaching the play-offs, which gives them and the league a little longer to sort out a crisis that has brought Coventry to the brink of league expulsion.

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It may even provide enough time for the Sky Blues to reach a deal to stay at the Ricoh, as the club have confirmed they have now started talking about a new tenancy agreement.

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 Last time this dispute reared up, Coventry ended up playing at Northampton’s Sixfields for a year – a situation the league is desperate to avoid as it infuriated fans and poisoned relations between the respective owners of the club and the stadium that was built for them a decade before.

Coventry forced out of home as legal battle over Ricoh Arena continues

Unfortunately, that relationship has not been repaired, with Sisu, the hedge fund which owns the Sky Blues, continuing its legal fight against Coventry City Council and Wasps, the rugby union club which bought the Ricoh Arena from the local authority in 2014.

Sisu, which has always wanted to buy the stadium, believes that sale was unlawful, but has now twice been defeated in the courts over the matter. In the meantime, it has allowed the tenancy agreement the Sky Blues agreed when they returned to Coventry in 2014 to run down.

The EFL has repeatedly warned Coventry they must tell the league what they are planning to do next season and have also said, if a new agreement cannot be reached at the Ricoh, they do not want the club moving more than six miles away.

As Wasps have previously refused to negotiate a new deal with Sisu until it drops its legal action, and Sisu have dug in, the Sky Blues have come up with two proposed ground-sharing options: Birmingham’s St Andrews, which would fail the six-mile requirement, and Coventry Rugby’s Butts Park, which would not.

In a statement, the EFL explained why it was postponing the emergency meeting of all 72 clubs and said it believed “significant progress has been made with a solution believed to have been identified”.

It added: “To allow the club the maximum period of time to finalise appropriate arrangements, the EFL board has opted to postpone Thursday’s EGM and remains hopeful such a meeting will not be required.”

It is understood the league is determined to avoid any repeat of the situation in 2013/14, when most Sky Blues fans simply refused to travel the 30 miles to watch their ‘home’ games in another club’s ground.

The preference is clearly for the Sky Blues to remain at the 32,000-capacity Ricoh, but that would need Sisu to do something they have never done since buying the club in 2007: back down in a fight over a stadium they have long coveted.

The club is looking to sort a new tenancy agreement (Getty)
The club is looking to sort a new tenancy agreement (Getty)

For their part, the club issued a statement to thank the EFL for postponing the EGM and reassured fans that they are still working hard to “bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion, which would see Coventry City continue to play its fixtures in Coventry”.

Given Sisu’s history, this would appear to mean a move to Butts Park is the likely result but there is new hope for a deal at the Ricoh.

“We can confirm that Coventry City Football Club has started initial discussions with Wasps Holdings Limited regarding an extension to our current license agreement to play at the Ricoh Arena,” it said.

“We can also confirm that a heads of terms agreement has been signed to groundshare at an alternative venue. However, the timescales involved with this option means that a deal with Wasps will need to be concluded very quickly, otherwise our option with the alternative venue will be lost.”

“We want to conclude this matter as soon as possible, with the continued aim of Coventry City playing at the Ricoh Arena, and will work extremely hard in the next few days to that end.”

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