Michael Walker: Good news and fans in short supply on another day in Coventry's decline
22:00 GMT, 9 September 2012
Just before 2.40pm on Sunday, on a beautiful sky-blue late summer's afternoon on the outskirts of Coventry, an announcement of gratitude was made at the Ricoh Arena. It was a thank you. It was for the 9,458 who had turned up.
The collective response felt like one of consternation. There was half an hour left and the score was Coventry City 1 Stevenage 1. There was still some hope.
Yet most of those present knew this was some kind of historic low. Ten minutes later a leggy Canadian striker called Marcus Haber – last seen at St Johnstone, now a Stevenage substitute – met a Luke Freeman corner kick and the score was Coventry City 1 Stevenage 2.
Worrying times ahead: Coventry's caretaker manager Richard Shaw (centre), with Lee Carsley (left) and Steve Ogrizovic, knows he has it all to do to arrest the slide
That is how it stayed. It meant that Coventry have won none of their five league matches since sinking into the third tier of English football in May. It is the first time since 1964 Coventry have been at this level. They have not won a league game since March. It is not difficult to see why attendances are collapsing.
You need to be around Jimmy Hill's age to recall such a bad time. Hill was manager back in 1964 but Coventry were moving up then. Today movement is downwards and Coventry do not have a manager.
That is just one of many, many problems. Andy Thorn, in charge last season, was sacked after three games of this, which does not smack of planning.
Richard Shaw is in post temporarily but sadly for him, any good news such as (on-loan) David McGoldrick’s opening goal was undermined by developments at the other end of the pitch and a referee who disallowed a genuine second for the home side from Stephen Elliott.
But, when Robin Shroot equalised for Stevenage in the first half, Coventry heads fell noticeably and the visitors – a non-League club two years ago – were the more coherent outfit in the second half. Their victory took them up to third. Coventry, meanwhile, are sixth bottom and travel to second-placed Tranmere Rovers on Saturday.
Where is everybody Attendances at the Ricoh Arena continue to plummet
Before then Shaw thinks he may be interviewed for the job but the candidate shortlist is said to be a long one and he did not sound a man being given certainties by the opaque ‘hedge fund’ owners of the club.
Shaw said the team require ‘a few nasty characters’; he spoke of ‘nervousness at the club as a whole’ and ‘too much negativity’. He stressed that he does not have a ‘defeatist attitude’ and talked about making the play-offs.
There are 41 games to go in this slog of a league, so there is time. But you could understand why Shaw said an appointment needs to be made ‘sooner rather than later’.
Coventry City cannot afford much, certainly not a transition season in League One.
Estimated to be 60million in debt, the club rent the Ricoh from the council at a cost of 1.2m per annum. Every week they need to find around 25,000 before turning on a light or kicking a ball.
Hence the newest chief executive, Tim Fisher, has described this season as ‘critical’ in terms of promotion. The economic consequences of third division life can shock even those who think they have bargained for the worst.
The accuracy of Fisher’s assessment guarantees nothing, however. This may be fresh trauma for him and Coventry fans but they are by no means the first club of this stature to slip into League One in recent years.
Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton Athletic, Southampton, Leicester City and Norwich City have all been down here.
Head boy: There was an air of inevitability about Stevenage's winner
Only Norwich and Leicester bounced back at the first time of asking. Forest, Leeds and Charlton each had three seasons in League One. Brighton, another club comparable to Coventry in size – and, for a while, trajectory and despair – spent five years in the division.
So, probably when they thought it couldn’t, it could get worse for Coventry City, who moved from Highfield Road to the curious Ricoh Arena seven years ago. It has 32,609 seats, obvious potential despite its location on the edge of town… and a feeling of emptiness.
It will be a long winter
Any Coventry fan who had not bought a season ticket and who fancied walking up for the game at the Ricoh Arena at short notice was confronted by a turnstile price of 22.
That’s 22 to watch third division football of inconsistent quality.
That’s 22 to watch a team who aren’t winning against, with all due respect, Stevenage.
That’s 22 to see Gary McSheffrey sit on the bench.
Last season’s average attendance was just over 15,000. Had Coventry been facing Derby – the third league opponents here last season – then 22 might have been acceptable. Or maybe not. The inflated price of football remains a scandal. As bad as coffee.
At Coventry it may help explain why, on such a gorgeous day, fewer than 9,000 locals turned up – Stevenage brought almost 500. What will happen to the crowds when winter comes