Whatever else this season brings for Coventry City supporters, they have already got the one result that really matters.
Today’s confirmation that the Sky Blues would be returning to the Ricoh Arena after spending last season playing their fixtures 35 miles from home at Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium brings an end to the darkest period in the League One club’s 131-year history.
It means that Steven Pressley’s side will play their first home fixture in Coventry since April 2013 when Gillingham visit on Friday 5 September, the club having agreed to a two-year tenancy with an option for an extra two years. And for Jan Mokrzycki of the Sky Blue Trust it represents “a victory for common sense and fan power”.
It was the Trust that led the year-long series of protests after club owners Sisu’s rental row with Arena Coventry Limited (ACL) led to City’s groundshare arrangement with Northampton.
There was an 8,000-strong march in Coventry on 14 July. At the televised Capital One Cup tie with Cardiff City this month, fans stood on the hill above Sixfields with banners bearing the message “Let Down”.
This mirrored similar protests last season when, moreover, fans voted with their feet by staying away from games at Sixfields. Coventry had the lowest average attendance in League One, 2,348, compared with an average of 10,948 at the Ricoh the previous season. According to one club source, the £500,000 raised from overall tickets sales at Sixfields in 2013-14 was a significant drop from the £1.8m brought in during the 2012-13 campaign.
Mokrzycki tells The Independent: “It is a victory for common sense and the power the supporter can have when they are united. It is a good day all around, and all we want to do now is get behind our team. It is almost like a new beginning – for the past year it has not felt like our team, it is a team that has been playing at Northampton. Our team is the one that plays in Coventry.”
According to manager Pressley – who did a commendable job steering Coventry to 18th place in League One last season despite a 10-point penalty for administration – this was “a huge and defining day for the football club”.
It began to take shape during the close season. At the end of June, Sisu lost its High Court battle with Coventry City Council over a £14.4m loan made by the council to ACL. Sisu claimed it was unlawful state aid, while the council argued it acted to protect its investment in ACL after the football club began withholding its rent payment. Then, three weeks ago, the Football League ordered Sisu to pay ACL the vast majority of the £590,000 still owing – £471,000 to be precise – as a condition of having been allowed to come out of administration and complete their fixtures in summer 2013.
After increasingly bitter relations between the different parties last year, two new faces took over negotiations: Steve Waggott, Coventry’s development director – not the unpopular chief executive, Tim Fisher – and Chris Robinson, who took over as the new chairman of ACL in February.
Speaking to The Independent, Waggott admitted that Coventry now had to “re-engage with our fanbase. I am hoping that people will look forward and not back”.
Yet the saga is not entirely over. The root of Coventry’s problems is they have not owned their own stadium since leaving Highfield Road in 2005 and Waggott stressed this remained the club’s ambition – be it at the Ricoh Arena or elsewhere.
“In the modern game every football club wants to have as many diversified revenue streams as possible and to get that you have to own the stadium or have the rights to the stadium all year,” he said. “We need to have this because of FFP and salary caps.
“This is a great step forward but it is a first step. The next steps have got to be moving towards us having our own stadium, if that’s a new stadium or a deal with partners in Coventry.”
Today was a blue-sky day for Coventry fans, but a question mark still hangs over the long-term future.