Combine a reclusive owner, a hedge fund that ‘batters people in court’, divine intervention, irate fans, a rugby club, a city council and impending extinction and you will come up with Coventry City Football Club.
On Tuesday Coventry, who famously beat Tottenham to win the FA Cup in 1987, must tell the Football League where they will be playing next season — against the backdrop of a vicious legal battle over the Ricoh Arena and catastrophic finances.
Fail to do so, and the League have said they will expel them.
Stadium owners Wasps Rugby Club say they will not strike a deal to extend Coventry’s stadium lease unless the club owners Sisu drop their legal fight over the stadium.
However, hedge fund Sisu have made it clear they have no intention of dropping their legal action against Coventry City Council over the sale of the stadium to Wasps.
Former Sky Blues shareholder Lionel Bird said: ‘I am not confident the club will survive. At some point this has to stop and the March 5 deadline brings up the realistic prospect that Coventry City Football Club will go out of business by the end of the season.
‘Since the League announced the deadline the fans have begun to realise how serious this is.’
Moz Baker, of the supporters group the Sky Blue Trust, said: ‘Coventry is a great city, Coventry City remains a big football club. The thought of there not being a club in this city is unthinkable but this situation, with no deal looking remotely likely, is as stark and as threatening as we’ve ever faced.’
The League ultimatum came at the end of last month and makes clear that without a satisfactory resolution they will ‘consider expulsion from the League’.
League One Coventry are short-term tenants at the stadium, with their lease due to run out at the end of this season and attendances around the 10,000 mark.
The 135-year-old club’s precipitous downfall has its roots in relegation from the Premier League in 2001, with the club massively in debt. In 2005 they played their last game at Highfield Road, having sold the land to developers, and subsequently moved into the state-of-the-art Ricoh Area, jointly owned by Coventry City Council and the Higgs Charity through stadium operator Arena Coventry Limited (ACL).
In 2007 hedge fund Sisu bought the club when it was still in the Championship and they had the right to buy back 50 per cent of ACL from the charity.
For several years the club burnt through millions that the notoriously secretive Sisu chief executive Joy Seppala said largely came from overseas investors.
This bid to buy their way back into the Premier League, however, failed miserably, with the club relegated to League One in 2012 and five years later they were in the bottom tier.
But the plight of the club off the pitch was arguably more catastrophic, with Sisu withholding rent from ACL and moving to Northampton in 2013. However, when the Sky Blues moved back to the Ricoh, after the intervention of the Very Rev John Witcombe, Dean of Coventry, the club were confronted by the fact that Coventry council and the charity had sold their interest in ACL and with it the stadium to Wasps.
In the same year they moved back into the stadium, Sisu, which club chairman Tim Fisher once told fans ‘batters people in court’, suffered an embarrassing legal defeat in the High Court.
Sisu and Seppala claimed that a £14million council loan to ACL was illegal but Justice Hickinbottom ruled Sisu had decided on the rent strike to make ACL ‘weak and commercially vulnerable’ to buy ACL on the cheap.
Last summer Sisu’s challenge to the legality of the council decision to sell its 50 per cent share in the stadium and extending the lease to Wasps was rejected by the courts. Now Sisu are trying to take the case to the Supreme Court.
The League have said that if Coventry City fail to meet the March 5 deadline an extraordinary general meeting will be held in late April to consider the club’s expulsion.
A Coventry City spokesman said: ‘These dates show how stark the situation facing the club is and that time is running out. All parties now need to work together for the good of Coventry City Football Club.’
A Coventry City Council spokesman said: ‘Coventry City Council has been clear we are willing to talk to the football club once the legal process has ended.’ Sisu were approached for a comment.