Normally a 1-1 draw with Charlton would be an inauspicious result, but for Coventry City it was the fatal blow in an already dismal season, condemning them to relegation.
Playing in League Two is not what it once was, with the league consistently producing good football in recent years and continually getting more competitive, but the sad fact is the Sky Blues should be nowhere near the bottom tier of the English Football League (EFL). Their campaign there next season will be their first at that level since 1959 and there will be no guarantees of promotion, with many fans perhaps worrying about another season flirting with relegation.
Realistically you would expect them to bounce back – Mark Robins is an experienced coach capable of getting good results. Similarly, whilst the ridiculous level of player turnover in recent seasons has massively reduced the age of the squad, there is an awful lot of potential there for a strong promotion tilt. In Lee Burge and Reice Charles-Cook they have two good young keepers, whilst Jordan Willis, Ruben Lameiras, Gael Bigirimana and the current top-scorer George Thomas form a decent core. That said, most of the playing staffs contracts expire at the end of the season and given SISU’s track record, who knows how many will actually stay.
Since SISU, a hedge-fund management company, took the club over in 2007, they have gone through nine different permanent managers (Mark Robins is currently back for his second spell) and now two relegations. The club has twice suffered points deductions for financial infractions and in the 2013-14 season they were forced to share Northampton Town’s Sixfields stadium – 34 miles away from their home ground, the Ricoh Arena, in a long-running dispute regarding rent.
The Sky Blues survived that season and were actually able to produce some good football, racking up over 60 points, but the cost-cutting strategy of SISU and the Otium Entertainment Group has meant that player turnover is unsustainable, leaving the successive stream of managers reliant on bleeding in the club’s youngsters much faster than anticipated and securing whatever piecemeal loans they can manage from Premier League and Championship sides. That is an unsustainable strategy and therefore their relegation this season is hardly a surprise, but it’s still incredibly disappointing nonetheless.
Just like Leyton Orient, who were dumped out of the EFL at the weekend for the first time in 112 years, poor ownership is damaging some of England’s most historic clubs and their fans have every right to be annoyed. #SISUOUT banners have become commonplace at the Ricoh this season, whilst the comical delay of the Charlton game due to plastic pigs littering the pitch highlights the real problem. There is a fundamental disconnect between the Coventry fans, some of the most loyal in the country, and an ownership so removed from the heart of the game.
Coventry’s battling 1-0 win over Walsall at the weekend, witnessed by just over 9,000 fans, should be a commonplace result but it was just their ninth league win of the season. They didn’t win a game until the 11th time of asking at the start of the season, before going on a winless run from the start of November to mid-February. Some of the blame can be laid at the feet of Tony Mowbray and Russell Slade (their managerial credentials in 2017 are definitely more than up for discussion), but it is with the ownership that the real problem lies.
Indeed, this should have been a season of celebration for the club. Not only did they secure their first trip to Wembley since their FA Cup win in 1987 (the only major trophy they had won prior to this season), but the Sky Blues were victorious in the revamped EFL Trophy final, beating Oxford 2-1 in front of over 74,000 fans. They had gone unbeaten on route to the final, scoring 18 goals along the way. When the final came, they put in the performance of their season and were rightful winners. However, much like Wigan’s FA Cup final victory in 2013, it will be a particularly bittersweet memory for Coventry.
You have to hope reason will win out and the ownership will look to sell the club to people who have a genuine interest in seeing the club thrive. That could be to a lucrative foreign investor, a local businessman or something akin to the set-up at Portsmouth. Without it however, a once historic club is set to face even more heartache and struggle. As football fans, that should leave a bitter taste in all of our mouths.