As the Ricoh electronic sign facing the road running past the stadium puts it, Welcome Home Coventry City. Undoubtedly it was an emotional moment on Friday evening to see the end of exile in Northampton. This display of emotion by ACL, the Ricoh company, was lessened to some extent by the fact that that it is one of a series of advertisements that cascade, so not entirely overwhelming. Among the others is one declaiming ‘NERF WARS Ten players for £99’. Turf Wars might be nearer the truth.
A return to the Ricoh has been from the very beginning a no brainer. Everybody lost with the move to Northampton – Sisu, through the boycott by Coventry City fans (although I suspect that the massive drop in gates was not solely out of reasoned protest by ‘real fans’ but also done to inconvenience for the less less-committed, but still important financially, fans.
I suspect that ACL, recognising what a no brainer the return was, always anticipated a return. The club logo, visible through the left-hand sector of the elliptical frame, never disappeared from the stadium throughout the period of exile, a slightly unnerving take on reality.
The details of the current ceasefire in the war between ACL and Sisu are subject to commercial confidentiality. The fact that a professional mediator was involved suggests to me that concessions were eventually made by both parties. Sisu have put on a bold face on and still talk bullishly but vaguely in terms of a new stadium, while ACL have not swung the might of their PR company Weber Shandwick into overdrive.
What little is known as fact is that the new agreement is one for two years with the option of a further two years. Seven years in and £40m+ sunk into the club by Sisu, SISU are far from OUT. Dreams of a Pompey-style takeover of the club by the Sky Blue Trust remain just that.
However jubilant fans may feel, there is little at a deeper level to celebrate, and they need to recognise that the ‘war’ is not over. They may be content to watch football at where they see as the rightful home of the club, but until more fundamental issues are fully resolved, we are now in a clod war scenario, with the prospect that hostilities will resume as we come up to the end of the current two-year ceasefire. Whatever deal has been reached over rent and matchday revenues is inevitably a compromise. The depressing reality is that neither Sisu nor ACL cannot afford to compromise as they both need all the monies in question.
One unknown in the equation is how many fans will maintain an anti-Sisu boycott. It will be interesting to see the level at which attendances settle as the season progresses.