Coventry City in Birmingham: Sky Blues owner Joy Seppala stung by personal 'abuse'

Joy Seppala is a director of Sisu Capital Ltd
Joy Seppala is a director of Sisu Capital Ltd, who took over the Sky Blues in 2007

Coventry City owner Joy Seppala says it is "an absolute tragedy" that the Sky Blues are to play in Birmingham, having failed to agree a new 2019-20 rent deal with Ricoh Arena owners Wasps.

In her first televised interview since Sisu took control of Coventry in 2007, Seppala shared her frustration at the club's temporary move to St Andrew's.

She also told Sky Sports News how much personal abuse she has received.

"It was very upsetting. I'm a big girl. I can handle it," she said.

"I can tell you of hundreds and hundreds of abuse emails and letters calling me all sorts of names, incessant calls to the office and the various protests.

"Our home was broken into. I wasn't worried about me, more my family. My children at the time were very young.

"I knew the anger from the supporters.

"But you come after my children, my personal home? It's a different story. It was very emotional, very upsetting.

"We got a call from security saying 'someone is in your home'. I went upstairs to check on the children.

"I had to think very carefully about how they got to school. That was the most difficult part of it."

'Circumstances beyond our control'

League One side Coventry have been tenants at the Ricoh Arena since they first moved in after leaving their old Highfield Road home in 2005 - first to the part Coventry City Council-owned Arena Coventry Ltd, then to the formerly Buckinghamshire-based Premiership rugby club Wasps from 2014.

It seemed hopeful, following the threat of potential expulsion from the English Football League, that City might extend their rent deal with Wasps, which ran out at the end of the 2018-19 season.

Wasps have repeatedly said they would not enter another agreement with the football club while Sisu continued their dispute regarding the sale of the Ricoh Arena to Wasps in 2014.

When Coventry's groundshare was announced on 7 June, Wasps said in a statement: "Despite significant progress being made in the discussions, we have unfortunately been unable to reach an agreement with the owners which, putting aside the complaint to the European Commission, would deliver the fundamental principle that there would be no further proceedings about the ownership of the Ricoh Arena."

Ricoh Arena and St Andrew's
Coventry City will leave the Ricoh Arena to spend the 2019-20 season 22 miles away at St Andrew's, home of Birmingham City (below)

Seppala says it was "circumstances beyond our control" that caused the breakdown of their talks.

"We signed an agreement with Wasps that we would not litigate against them over the sale of the Ricoh," she said. "We agreed to terms.

"But then when they came back, they wanted us to sign something that wasn't feasible. Not just Sisu, but the football club as well, underwriting damages and costs that they might incur.

"It basically stripped the football club of its right to pursue anything. There was no chance we were going to jeopardise the football club, so it wouldn't have the ability to exercise its own liberties."

A 'tragedy' not to be in Coventry

In a 75-minute interview, parts of which were first broadcast on Monday, Seppala also made claims that Wasps had been part of one of the past bids to buy the football club.

That was firmly denied by Wasps chief executive Nick Eastwood, who said: "We have no interest in buying Coventry City.

"We would simply like to see the club back playing at the Ricoh Arena, a view we believe is shared by everyone involved."

Seppala said: "It's an absolute tragedy that we're playing at Birmingham. It's disappointing to the fans, the players, to the employees of the club and to ourselves.

"It's not what we would ever choose. We want to be like any other club, playing in our own stadium. But, at the end of the day, the football club is playing some place else, so we apologise for that.

"We just want to be a team in our own stadium, generating our own revenue."

There have been many protests from supporters against Sisu during their ownership of Coventry, not least when the Sky Blues spent the 2013-14 season and the beginning of the following campaign playing at Sixfields, home of Northampton Town, before returning to Coventry.

But there have been some positive moments under the Sisu/Otium Entertainment regime too.

Although Seppala says she no longer attends City matches, she was at Wembley when Mark Robins' Sky Blues won the Checkatrade Trophy in 2017 and then won promotion back to English football's third tier by winning the League Two play-off final in 2018.

"There are days when it's difficult but that's life," she said. "This has been the most professionally challenging experience and, in many respects, it's been the most rewarding."