My local football team is in trouble. They have a new manager (but same old bad results), don’t own their stadium and have no plan for the future.
I should at this point admit to not being a Coventry City supporter but as they are my local ‘big’ club I would class myself as a follower. I will check their results on the internet and would have liked to see them back in the Premier League yet in the 11 years since they left the top flight they have aimlessly lurched from crisis to crisis, in 2007 they were 20 minutes away from administration.
For a team that has a loyal fanbase and a large catchment area they should be performing much better. Granted they will never be a Manchester United or Arsenal but Coventry is the 12th largest city in England, if Southampton can be challenging for Europe then so could Coventry City. So what went wrong?
For as long as I can remember the club has had an attitude of planning for today, this is not unique for football clubs as they all seem to believe that spending more and more on players and their wages will bring success. This is based on the logic that everyone will win the league and that everyone is going to be in Europe. Yet at the end of the season there has to be some losers and recently they have lost harder than ever before. Relegation now brings the very real threat that your club could disappear from existence, and Coventry City are once again on the brink. So how can they, or any other team, be saved?
Get investors out.
The first problem is the owners (in Coventry’s case SISU), a hedge fund which brought the club in 2007 (and again in 2011 by some magic hedge fund financing). According to reports they have lost somewhere in the region of £30 million and want their money back. They have tried to recoup their costs by selling the better players, yet this has just weakened the value of the club. I can’t imagine that there is £30 million worth of players left at the club, so even if they sold everyone they still would not cover their losses. And they would still be losing money. The best thing is for them to cut their losses and go, if the club goes into administration (which is looking likely) then they won’t have anything anyway.
Give the club to the fans.
It works for Barcelona, although I am not expecting Coventry City to be a multiple times winner of the Champions League (although Nottingham Forest were). More clubs should be in the hands of those who have the interests of the club for their entire life. Players, managers and directors come and go but the fan always remains. It is they who should be in charge as it is only they who will take into consideration the long-term survival of the club, they are the only ones who will think of their 10-year old kids who will be tomorrow’s fans. Make Coventry City a trust where every fan who buys a share in them, with elected officials who are accountable to the thousands of supporters who spend their money on tickets, merchandise and food.
Do not plan promotions.
Too many cubs are chasing promotion and try to spend their way there. If you achieve it then you are safe for the minute, but the price for failure is too high. Good governance of the club should come first and the growth should be organic. Teams like Swansea, Southampton and Stoke have shown that gradual growth year-on-year has made them less reliable on television and prize money. If you go splashing the cash like Bradford or Portsmouth did then you are building a house with sand-based foundations. Don’t plan to be promoted but have a plan for promotion.
You can win things with youngsters.
The nearest big clubs to Coventry are in Birmingham or Leicester, take the opportunity to dip into the local talent pool and develop a world-class youth system. Be the Ajax, Atalanta or Atletic Bilbao of England. Link up with local schools in the area and provide coaching, have partnerships with Nuneaton, Bedworth and other lower league clubs to send your reserves out to play regular football. Give the youngsters a chance, if there is a choice between signing a journeyman player or promoting a promising young kid then give the youth the chance. He will have more motivation than someone picking up this 20k a week.
Be part of the community.
Be more than a club. Make it part of the players contract that they have to go out to local schools and clubs and give training sessions, make them realise what it means to the kids to support Coventry City. Even if kids today want to support Manchester United or a Liverpool make sure that Coventry City is their second team, and they want to go see the matches. In fact make tickets free for all under-10’s. When they are in the ground they will want to eat or have the shirt, do not make it cost £100 for a family to come see a game.
I’m not saying that this plan will work, but it is better than not having one at all. Asset stripping a club with no assets isn’t going to help, relegation is a time to clear out and plan for the future. One of the emblems of Coventry is the phoenix rising from the flames, now is the time for the club to light the fires and rise up from the ashes.