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Ownership issues are no laughing matter for Bolton and Coventry

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karlypants

karlypants
Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
If any two clubs in League One can swap ownership horror stories tomorrow afternoon, it is Bolton Wanderers and Coventry City.

Assuming yesterday’s lunacy with court injunctions and ticket delays allows anyone access to the UniBol in time for kick-off, we could see a footballing re-enactment of Monty Python’s famous Four Yorkshiremen sketch as increasingly fantastical yarns of boardroom lunacy are swapped among two sets of supporters who have been through t’mill in recent times.

“Our team can't play games in our own city because a rugby club and our owners have fallen out.”

“Did you have a full team?”

“Yes.”

“You were lucky.”

It is, of course, no laughing matter. The most recent chapter in Coventry’s nomadic existence has seen them turfed out of the Ricoh Arena and forced to play 16 miles down the road at Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s stadium, the equivalent of Wanderers being asked to turn out at Ewood Park.

Around 3,000 Sky Blues season tickets have still been sold, although many supporters refuse defiantly to attend ‘home’ games. That has added extra weight on Wanderers’ shoulders this week as they pondered indecisively on how to sell and price tickets.

It has been 12 years since Coventry’s current and much-maligned owners arrived at the club. In 2013 the Sky Blues were put into the hands of the same administrators currently overseeing Wanderers’ sale – London-based David Rubin and Partners.

In the end, a bid was accepted from a related Sisu firm, Otium Entertainment, for CCFC Ltd's assets which included the club's "Golden Share" granting the right to field a team in the Football League.

That team ended up ground-sharing with Northampton Town, playing their first game against Bristol City in front of just 1,500 supporters. Meanwhile, a charity game at the Ricoh Arena on the same day involving some of the club’s ex-players raised a crowd of 5,000.

Various legal battles ensued, including a judicial review into a £14million loan from Coventry City Council to Arena Coventry Limited (ACL), who were running the stadium on their behalf.

Sisu eventually settled a bill with ACL which allowed a return to the Ricoh but the trouble was far from over as rugby union giants Wasps bought out shares in ACL to effectively own the stadium in late 2014.

That led to further challenges at the Supreme Court and the European Commission on the premise that the stadium had been under-valued in the sale.

Supporters, caught in the crossfire, protested in great numbers. Wanderers experienced that first-hand in January 2017 after Max Clayton scored a late equaliser – and fans’ group The Jimmy Hill Way organised a ‘sit-in’ demanding Sisu sell the club.

Now second-class citizens in their own stadium, efforts to secure a deal to play at the Ricoh alongside Wasps dragged on for several months and by the summer, Coventry were facing potential expulsion from the EFL if they could not agree where they would be playing their home games this season.

Though discussions continue on that front with the landlords, the decision was taken to groundshare with Birmingham for the 2019/20 campaign to allow them to fulfil their fixtures.

Wanderers have, at least, kept a firm grip on their stadium throughout their own troubles, even though their problems selling tickets and getting players registered in the midst of a takeover leave Saturday’s game as somewhat of an unknown quantity even 24 hours from kick-off.

The delays will inevitably hit attendance figures and though the initial plan had been to close the top tiers – ensuring Bolton’s already-stretched stewarding does not prove an issue – it now looks almost certain to test the lowest-ever league gate at the new stadium.

On Halloween night, 2000, just 10,180 drifted into the Reebok to see Wanderers beat QPR 3-1 with goals from Gudni Bergsson, Robbie Elliott and Michael Ricketts.

Smaller crowds have been seen in the cup competitions. Just 1,540 turned up in the Checkatrade Trophy to see Bolton beaten by Everton’s Under-23s in August 2016.

Only 49 more fans were coaxed through the turnstiles for the game against Blackpool in the same competition a few weeks later. They were, at least, treated to a winning goal from Sammy Ameobi.

Source

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