How the Sky Blues have come crashing down since THAT magical FA Cup win in 1987
One of the joys of doing an internet column is the fact that you are not confined by space, as you are with newsprint.
This week”s labour of love has been a look at Coventry City”s plight, which will appear in Saturday”s Daily Mail (fingers crossed).
When you are asked to put together a piece like this, you obviously ask those past and present for their views etc.
Unforgettable: Coventry players celebrate their 1987 FA Cup triumph
Not all of this is used. It won”t be on Saturday, for instance, because I don”t have the space.
And 900 words I could have written 9,000. But, it seems a shame that all this work should go to waste – not least because it throws up interesting nuggets that would otherwise get lost.
For instance, before I kicked off this piece – I put together a timeline of what has happened to the club since 1987 – the 25th anniversary of that FA Cup win.
It contains the bare essentials. Most Sky Blues fans will know it anyway, but it just highlights what has happened to the club since then.
I can”t include everything but it”s a snapshot if you like of what has happened.
I would ask at this point not to have any subjective opinions on what is laid before you.
Try and look at it with an open mind. I think it”s impossible to escape the obvious conclusion.
Coventry City timeline
1987 – The “team with no stars” wins the FA Cup for the first time in the Sky Blues” history following an epic 3-2 victory over Spurs.
1989 – Coventry, lying third in the First Division, are at the centre of one of the biggest upsets in FA Cup history, losing 2-1 to Sutton United in the third round.
1991 – Managers John Sillett and Terry Butcher come and go. At the dawn of the new Premier League, David Speedie is the highest-paid player on 1,200-per-week. Coventry remain in the top flight.
Diving into history: Everybody remembers Keith Houchen”s brilliant goal in the 1987 FA Cup final victory over Tottenham at Wembley
1992 – Former Warwickshire cricketer Bryan Richardson joins the board. Don Howe and Bobby Gould are both appointed as managers before making way for Phil Neal.
1994 – Richardson assumes board control from Derrick Robins. His mantra “We”re going to have a punt.”
1995 – Ron Atkinson takes over from Neal.
1996 – Gordon Strachan becomes the seventh manager in nine years after Atkinson declines director of football role. Coventry North-West MP Geoffrey Robinson joins the board.
1998 – Debt reported to be 20m. Gary McAllister is now among the highest-paid players on 20,000-a-week.
1999 – Robbie Keane is signed for a club record 6m from Wolves – and is sold one year later to Inter Milan for 13m.
Shocking: Minnows Sutton United ended Coventry”s hopes of another FA Cup win when they pulled off a giant-killing in the third round in 1989
2001 – Coventry”s 34-year stay in the top flight ends at Villa Park with a 3-2 defeat.
2002 – Richardson makes way for Mike McGinnity as chairman. The former shop-fitter inherits a crippling debt of 59.7m.
2003 – Coventry City Council give the green light for the Ricoh Arena to be built with Coventry City as sitting tenants. Highfield Road is sold off to developers.
2004 – After a fire-sale of players, McGinnity chops debt to 23m. However, the club has few assets, save for the the training ground at Ryton-on-Dunsmore.
Manager McAllister battles gamely to protect the Sky Blues” championship status. As does Eric Black. And Peter Reid.
2005 – Ricoh Arena opens with Micky Adams having secured safety the previous season. Robinson succeeds McGinnity who stands down due to ill-health.
2006 – Coventry”s final position of eighth under Adams is their highest in any league since they finished seventh in the First Division in 1989.
2007 – Adams is forced to sell Gary McSheffrey and James Scowcroft. Dennis Wise joins Leeds. Robinson announces three-year plan for the Premier League.
2008 – Club teeters on the brink of administration. Ray Ranson, backed by hedge fund SISU, promises to plough in 20m to return club to the top flight. Iain Dowie is sacked, Chris Coleman takes over.
Ups and downs: Robbie Keane (left) was bought for 6m and sold for 13m while Gary McAllister played for and managed the Sky Blues
2010 – Coleman is sacked. Aidy Boothroyd is the latest man in the hot-seat. He is ousted, shortly before Ranson resigns, leaving SISU nursing a monthly loss of 500,000 just to keep the club afloat.
2011 – Andy Thorn becomes the 14th manager since 1987. After two wins in 19 matches, the club is bottom of the Championship and facing administration once more.
I cannot be alone in thinking that the over-riding flavour of this worrying timeline is chronic mismanagement
It starts with Bryan Richardson. On the face of it an utterly charming man. American author Rick Gekoski”s brilliant account of life behind the scenes at Coventry in 1997 is worth its weight in gold.
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The blurb on the back, written by Gordon Strachan, who was manager at the time, says it”s about as close as you can get to actually being there.
Having worked in and around professional football clubs for the best part of 20 years, I would urge Sky Blues supporters to read it.
The early chapters, given what we now know, are chilling.
Anyway, the rot starts with Richardson. He took over the club, “had a punt” (his words, not mine) and it ended with a 59.7m debt and no stake in Ricoh Arena.
There are some good guys out there. I think Mike McGinnity, who invested 2m of his own cash subsequently keeping the club afloat, is one of them.
Clearly, Geoffrey Robinson was well-meaning. But, having written off 23m, you have to wonder as to why he was allowed to become paymaster-general…
Paul Fletcher was enthusiastic but there was little real sign of improvement under his leadership, either on or off the pitch.
And then we turn to SISU, brought to the table by Ranson who paid himself 300,000 per year for the privilege of being chief executive of the club.
His mismanagement has led directly to this latest mess although SISU should know, being a hedge fund, that if you play high-value games there is a chance you will lose them.
I spoke with a couple of managers this week. Peter Reid was one, Micky Adams the other.
Stuck: Peter Reid knew the players he wanted but the money wasn”t there
So, I”m just going to give an overview of what has faced Reid – and probably one dozen of the 13 other managers since John Sillett.
“We were sixth or seventh at the turn of the year and Callum Davenport”s contract was running out at the end of the season,” he said. “The club – for reasons I now understand – didn”t want to wait for the money as it would have gone to tribunal at the end of the season.
“So, I agreed to sell Davenport on the proviso that I had the money to reinvest. So, on that basis, I started looking about.
“I brought Stern John in and had Stephen Hunt over on trial from Ireland.
“What”s more, Niall Quinn had tipped me off about Kevin Doyle. I was certain that if I could have got to the lad, I”d have signed him as well.
“I needed someone at the back to fill the gap left by Davenport and I”d lined up Malky Mackay who I felt would do a good job for us.
“What happened We couldn”t afford Hunt”s 1,500-a-week wages. When I saw what was going on, I didn”t follow up my interest in Doyle. Mackay went to West Ham.
“I asked the chairman: (Mike McGinnity) “Where”s the money gone”
“He looked at me and said: “Sorry Peter, the bank”s taken it.””
Speak to Adams and he will speak out in defence of a succession of bosses. But he too, has his tale to tell. Bear in mind that Adams had just orchestrated the highest league finish since 1989, albeit in the Championship (eighth).
Up against it: Micky Adams succeeded Reid but lost experienced players
“I didn”t think we were far off. Only what happens We lose Gary McSheffrey and James Scowcroft, two of our most influential players. Dennis Wise is allowed to leave for Leeds,” he said.
“Results Well, they start dropping off in the following season and everyone is looking at the manager.
“But don”t look at me. Look at the rest of the bosses who followed.
“Are we all bad I would suggest some are better than others but the law of averages says you should pick one or two good ones. How many is it in 25 years Fourteen Fifteen
“The problem with Coventry City is when the fans start calling for the managers” head, the board cave in.
“What does that do It takes the emphasis off them. All the best clubs stand by their managers when it gets sticky. Coventry City don”t.
“What”s the answer when the supporters moan Fire the manager, bring in a new one. The board stays put. It”s just been repeated. Time and again.
Not enough: One of Coventry”s two wins this season was against Forest
“Also the Ricoh Arena is a millstone around the club”s neck. Until they get that sorted out, they aren”t going anywhere.
“Fantastic city, great supporters who deserve better. After playing for and managing the club it broke my heart that I couldn”t give them the success they crave. It really did.
“I phoned Aidy Boothroyd when he got the job, marked his card on a couple of issues and said: “If you get it right, you”ll go down in history. They have had nothing to shout about.””
It was almost painful, going down to Ryton on Thursday for Andy Thorn”s pre-match press conference.
I have never felt such an air of desolation. The place stank of defeatism. Everywhere but in the room set aside for Thorn”s musings.
He said all the right things: “We”ll stick together, I”ve got faith in the kids.”
But I”m not even sure he believed what he was saying.
Peter Ward, holder of four season-tickets and chairman of the Sky Blues” supporters consulation group, said: “I keep repeating myself – but I”ll say again to the board: “What is the plan Please tell us.””
I”ve sat across a table not long ago – about seven weeks to be precise – and interviewed Ken Dulieu.
No home comforts: Coventry”s latest outing in front of their own supporters at the Ricoh Arena ended in a 1-0 defeat against Hull
He was plausible. But then he goes and shoots himself in the foot by sitting on the bench last week.
Ken, mate, we are all football wannabes. Sadly, we have to let those that can do it get on with it.
The owners of the club, a hedge fund called SISU, do not exist to sustain losses.
They are supposed to take investors” cash and turn it into more cash via sensible business purchases.
Coventry City is losing money hand over fist. Best estimates Well, it was losing 500,000 a month.
Those debts have been reduced, according to Dulieu, by about 40 per cent. Which means 300,000 is still draining away ever four weeks. It is a situation that cannot continue ad infinitum.
In my opinion, any investors are waiting to see whether the club goes into administration and hoping to pick it up for a song with SISU writing off their investment.
It”s a game of brinkmanship because there is no easy way out for SISU.
They clearly do not have deep enough pockets to buy the Arena site because they would have done so by now. It is, after all, the sensible way out.
But the city council, no doubt aware of the above timeline and mismanagement, aren”t going to hand a prime asset like the Arena to just anyone. Why should they
Back to Ward. “It”s a mess and it”s incredibly painful,” he said.
My best guess at the future Looking logically, if SISU wanted out they could sell what few remaining playing assets there are in the transfer window, grab that money and call it quits. Otherwise, the losses will accumulate and the situation will worsen.
Huge job: Andy Thorn has a task on his hands with Coventry bottom of the table
SISU”s shareholders must already be asking questions.
On the pitch, relegation, I”m afraid, is an inevitability if nothing happens.
Extrapolate the season over 46 games. Coventry City have won two in 19 so far.
It”s not Andy Thorn”s fault. It”s certainly not that of this group of players, either, as long as they keep trying.
SISU are in a difficult position. But the least the supporters deserve is a full and detailed explanation of what the plans are.
They are planning a boycott in protest at the FA Cup game against Southampton.
That”s the last thing the club needs. The conclusion is that someone, somewhere needs to come up with a plausible plan.
Otherwise this horrible pain is going to carry on.