Coventry & Warwickshire

Coventry City groundshare with Northampton 'a disaster'

The Ricoh Arena has been Coventry City's home since 2005

A long-running rent dispute between Coventry City and the owners of the football club's stadium looks set to see the Sky Blues play home matches in Northampton next season.

The deal would see Coventry - a Premier League team until 12 years ago and FA Cup winners as recently as 1987 but now in the third tier of English football - play home games 34 miles from the city.

Fans have already begun to voice their anguish at the idea of their club leaving Coventry, even if only on a temporary basis.

Pat Raybould has been a Coventry City supporter for about 55 years and says she has missed only one home game and one away game in that time.

She is "gutted" the Sky Blues look set to share Northampton Town's Sixfields Stadium for the next three seasons but said she felt it would not be fair to the players or management to no longer attend matches.

But, she said, she has "a principle" that Coventry City should play in Coventry.

"I jumped one side of the fence to the other over the past few weeks. My problem is, having supported them for that long, I want to support the team," she said.

Olympic venue

Ms Raybould said she did not drive, but "if logistics are right", she was 99% sure she would go to Northampton.

Former boss John Sillett said the people of Coventry "don't deserve" a 70-mile round trip for home games

But she said she would only pay for a ticket and "won't put any extra money into the club" by buying programmes or shirts.

Coventry City played at Highfield Road for 106 years - including the halcyon days of the FA Cup win and a 34-year unbroken spell in the top flight - before moving to the Ricoh Arena in 2005.

The new, larger stadium, outside the city centre, also hosts concerts and was used as one of the venues for the London 2012 Olympic football.

But it has never staged Premier League football, with the Sky Blues unable to regain top flight status and indeed relegated to League One a year ago.

Sisu, owners of the club since 2007, had been looking at options for a new stadium after being involved in a rent dispute with Ricoh owners Arena Coventry Ltd (ACL) for over a year.

The club put itself into administration earlier this year after being taken to court to face an administration order from ACL over a year's unpaid rent of £1.3m.

But the plan to hire Northampton's ground for home games, which still needs approval from the Football League, has come despite an offer from the stadium's owners to allow City to use the Ricoh Arena rent-free next season.

Supporter Mike Grimes said he was concerned how the change would affect his mother, who has been a season ticket holder for more than 40 years.

'Terribly sad day'

He said: "We have a great stadium in Coventry. Why they think this move is in any way sustainable is beyond me.

"The people I feel the most sorry for are the older loyal fans who have seen us rise and then fall so ungracefully, thanks to bad leadership.

"It's fans like my mum who now can't afford to support her beloved club - that is what truly breaks my heart.

"We will end up like Wimbledon. A terribly sad day."

Michael Doherty from Tile Hill, who is 55 and has been a supporter since he was 11, said he "would not travel".

He said: "I don't see anybody going there because Coventry wouldn't benefit from it."

Rob Griffiths, from Nuneaton, said: "I think it's dreadful. I think Sisu... they're just destroying the club. I wouldn't travel to Northampton to see them."

Another supporter, Roy Windross, from Bulkington, said "they shouldn't have left Highfield Road".

Kevin Upton, from Coventry, a fan for about 20 years, said he did not even go to the Ricoh Arena any more and had become so disillusioned with the club he now regarded it as a "waste of space, waste of money".

Last month, a group of about 100 Coventry City fans protested outside the Ricoh Arena in an attempt to keep the club in the city.

Supporters also travelled to London to post letters at the offices of Sisu and the Football League over their fears of the temporary move to another ground.

'A wonderful stadium'

Chairman of the Sky Blues Trust John Fletcher said 98% of its members were against assisting a move away from the city when polled earlier this year.

Sky Blues supporter Rob Griffiths said he would not travel to Northampton for home games

Mr Fletcher, who said he was keen to hear from the Football League, said he would not be prepared to travel to Northampton.

"We're running a Not One Penny More campaign," he said.

"And that's what I'll be doing - not a penny will I give them until they move back to the Ricoh."

Legendary former manager John Sillett, who led the team to the FA Cup victory of 1987, said: "I've watched football all my life and played it, and I've never seen a set-up like what's going on at Coventry at the moment.

"How these people couldn't get together and sort out such a wonderful stadium as the Ricoh..."

He said one of his fondest memories of the FA Cup triumph was returning to the city after the win.

Mr Sillett said: "Seeing faces that were so happy and so proud... and to think what they must be thinking now, sitting there like I am, in tears for what's going on at that football club."

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