Dark clouds hover menacingly over fading Sky Blues

Cashless and forced to play youngsters, Coventry City are on the verge of a sadly historic relegation

The five-ringed circus pitches its tent at the Ricoh Arena on Monday, the appetiser for a summer of 2012 Olympic matches at Coventry City's stadium. However, it looks like those visiting the ground after the Games will be less glamorous. Barring an improbable set of results, which would need to culminate in Coventry winning at Southampton next week, the Sky Blues will drop into the lower divisions for the first time since climbing out 48 years ago under the management of Jimmy Hill.

Coventry's decline has been a long time coming: this is the sixth season in succession they have finished 17th or lower in the Championship. But that will not soften the ire of supporters today. If Coventry fail to beat Doncaster, or Bristol City win at home to Barnsley, Coventry are down. Then the blame game will start, with Sisu Capital first in the firing line.

The London-based private-equity fund acquired the club in 2007, initially with Ray Ranson, the footballer-turned-entrepreneur. This rescued Coventry from administration brought on by their relegation from the Premier League in 2001 with £60m debts – and, for a while, there was optimism.

However, Sisu under-estimated the cost of chasing promotion. As recently as December 2010 the club were contenders, but a bad run prompted the sacking of Aidy Boothroyd and Sisu, which has sunk £40m into the club, decided it was time to stem their losses and slashed the wage bill. With Manager Andy Thorn increasingly forced to rely on youngsters, results inevitably worsened.

In the emotional wake of this week's home defeat by Millwall, Thorn said he was "angry" and "disappointed" with the lack of support from above.

In a calmer moment he told The Independent: "I understand it needed to be done for financial reasons – we still have a club – but it's been really tough. Everyone knows how tight our budget is, we've had to rebuild with youth players, not even players from League Two or the Conference. As well as coaching them we have had to show them how to play men's football. They have given everything, but they make mistakes, as young players who are learning the game will, and everyone seems to have been punished."

Thorn will be staying on whatever division Coventry are in next season, said chief executive Tim Fisher yesterday. "We need stability. We've had 12 managers in 13 years. That's enough already. Andy is part of the re-building process."

Coventry have also had seven chairmen in 10 years, with the last, Portugal-based Ken Dulieu, leaving the club after causing a furore when he made himself head of football operations and sat on the bench alongside Thorn. "He meant well," said Thorn, "he wanted to show his support for me, the staff and players." That was December. Dulieu has yet to be replaced , but Fisher, the latest of several chief executives, has improved previously dire relations with fans.

"There will be a grieving period if we go down," he said. "The fans will be angry and rightly so. This year has been painful. We need to communicate with them. But if we start well I think they will come back to us. The example we are aiming to follow is that of Southampton and Norwich. Clubs do come back, many of them have.

"If we go down – and I stress 'if' as we're still fighting – we are going to re-structure, re-group and bounce back. Sisu have asked us to write a plan detailing how we would get back up."

One major problem is that the club do not own the Ricoh, which means even the arrival of the Olympics does not bring much financial cheer. Ownership of the seven-year-old, 32,500-seat stadium is shared between Coventry City Council and the Alan Higgs Charity, a local trust. Coventry pay £1.2m rent, reasonable for the facility, but a stretch on League One income and Sisu would like it reduced. John Mutton, leader of the Labour-run council, is a Coventry fan, but admits: "I don't think we will be able to help while there is a hedge fund involved.

"They won't sell even though there has been interest, because no one will pay the money they want to offset their losses. That's their own fault, there is no sympathy from local people. We won't consider selling our shares to Sisu. If we had a company we thought would take it forward we might."

Such comments underline the scale of the task Fisher has in attempting to restore the community's trust in the club. It is a far cry from 1967, when 51,455 packed the club's former home, Highfield Road, to celebrate promotion to the top flight, and 1987, when the FA Cup final victory over Tottenham Hotspur was greeted with joyous scenes. The 25th anniversary of the club's finest moment is being marked by an exhibition in the local Herbert Art Gallery and Museum which "looks at how a football team can unite a whole city". Success seems to be the obvious answer, but for now there are only dark clouds over the Sky Blues.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss