There were sky blue ribbons festooning the railings and lampposts around the Ricoh Arena. Inside 27,306 supporters – more than 10 times their average crowd at Northampton – gathered to welcome a football club home.
After 16 months away, the 15-minute delay to kick-off was incidental. After all, as the Coventry Telegraph’s giant wallchart put it in big blue letters, Coventry City were “Back where we belong”.
Last night was about so much more than a League One match though it helped the party atmosphere that Steven Pressley’s side made it six games unbeaten with victory over Gillingham, debutant Frank Nouble side-footing the only goal from the impressive Ryan Haynes’s cross after 10 minutes.
Gillingham’s City old boy Cody McDonald might have slightly dampened the celebrations with a late equaliser but missed, leaving Pressley delighted his team had harnessed the positive energy crackling around the Ricoh. “For everybody it was an emotional return, I thought we showed the true potential of this club,” he said.
This was Coventry’s first real home fixture since 20 April last year. Bruce Springsteen had played at the Ricoh more than six of last night’s starting XI, but after the protests and placards and marches through Coventry, they were back and Pressley paid credit to the home supporters. “At times the game has lost touch with supporters from ticket pricing to decisions made on the strategy of the club, I think our supporters have shown that ultimately football is about the people and they should be proud of themselves.”
There was similar praise from Shaun Harvey, chief executive of the Football League, writing in the match programme though he also sought to explain the League board’s logic in allowing Sisu, Coventry’s hedge-fund owners, permission to move during their rent row with Arena Coventry Limited (ACL), the stadium operators. He argued that “it would seriously undermine the ability of football clubs to negotiate a fair rent” if clubs had no alternative.
After Sisu lost its high court case in June against Coventry council – which it had accused of acting improperly – Mr Justice Hickinbottom said in his judgement that Sisu had withheld rent “quite deliberately to distress” ACL’s financial position. Despite the recent reconciliation, the question now is what City’s owners will do next. The new tenancy agreement is for two years and Steve Waggott, the chief executive, admits the club are considering other sites. “We need to have our own stadium and I keep it open-ended,” he said last night. “We need a stadium 365 days a year.”
For Michael Orton, a regular protestor on the hill overlooking Sixfields with the Keep Cov in Cov campaign, the future could wait. “There are still lots of questions but that is not for today,” he said. “Today is about celebrating the return.”Reuse content