A daft old tale which cheered me up earlier today, about Coventry City's takeover by Sisu. See "text a substitute" and concerns about the club mascot for starters.
Coventry City’s fingers caught in Sisu sliding door that Saints dodged | Coventry City | The Guardian
Coventry City’s fingers caught in Sisu sliding door that Saints dodged
Soaring Southampton’s lucky escape from a proposed takeover in 2007 put the Sky Blues on the road to years of pain and fans fear for their Football League status in the near future.
There are times in football when you hear a story that sounds so daft, so utterly inconceivable, that if it happened in just about any other sport you would probably think it might be too far-fetched to be true.
Unfortunately, this is football, land of the absurd, and it all fits into the narrative to learn that Coventry City, under the permanently bewildering Sisu regime, briefly discussed the idea – no kidding – of being the first club in England to introduce a “text‑a‑substitute” option during matches. Supporters would be given a number they could text, at premium rates, to say who the manager should take off and who should come on. An announcement would be made at the appropriate time about the most popular vote and the manager, the poor patsy, would be under instructions to comply with the crowd’s wishes.
To be fair, the idea did not get far, but it does you give you an example of the boardroom buffoonery that is prevalent within the sport and it did make me wonder whether the supporters of Southampton, experiencing the kind of joys the modern-day Coventry can scarcely imagine, ever contemplate how life might have been entirely different but for one of those Sliding Doors moments that has sent the two clubs in their respective directions.
When the story of Southampton’s success is told, it tends to be forgotten that Sisu, the hedge fund that has brought Coventry to their knees, was once on the brink of buying the south‑coast club and closing a deal that, 125 miles north, would have spared another club the distress it has endured over the last nine years.
How close was it to happening? Very close. On 19 October 2007, the directors of Southampton Leisure Holdings, the club’s parent company, voted 5-2 in favour of accepting the £40m deal that Sisu had put forward. Everything was in place until the proposals were rejected by three of the major shareholders – Rupert Lowe, Michael Wilde and Leon Crouch – to spark a falling-out that eventually split the board in two. The announcement of Sisu taking control at Coventry came eight weeks later and within three days Southampton’s chief executive, Jim Hone, the chairman, Ken Dulieu, and the commercial director, Andy Oldknow, had quit, blaming “a major difference of opinion between them and certain major shareholders”.
Knowing what we do now, we can all probably agree which club made the wiser decision, and who was offering the best advice, even if Southampton did have to endure some prolonged pain, including a spell in administration and relegation to League One, before Markus Liebherr’s 2009 takeover began the recovery we see now.
Dulieu was so embedded to Sisu he turned up at Coventry proclaiming himself to be the man who would save the club and announcing he used to “look after security operations in Northern Ireland”. Orange Ken, as he became known because of his perma‑tan, became chairman, then head of football operations, and started attracting suspicion when he ordered himself a training kit bearing his own initials. He invited himself into the dressing room when the manager, Andy Thorn, was giving his team talk and watched one game from the dugout, apparently living out some childhood fantasies, before the stink it caused led to his resignation. He left Coventry in the Championship’s relegation zone, proudly claiming to have “turned the club around” and, unless someone can tell me otherwise, he has not worked in football since.
It is amazing the kind of people this sport attracts and, unfortunately for Coventry, they have suffered more than most when it comes to the list of those passing through with big ideas, little expertise and the general sense that they think running a football club must be a doddle.
Another was Leonard Brody, a Canadian entrepreneur and social media guru, who joined Coventry at the same time as Dulieu, forming part of the club’s “best-ever board” and in one meeting announced he had a master-plan to stop the club haemorrhaging so much money.
The details are recounted in A Club Without a Home, a splendid new book telling the story of the Sisu years in the words of Simon Gilbert, the Coventry Evening Telegraph’s award-winning chief reporter. “Leonard Brody said he had 10 ideas, so I said: ‘What is your best idea?’” Gary Hoffman, the former vice-chairman, tells the author. “That was when he talked about ‘text a substitute’. I said even if that was allowed under Football League rules, how do you think that’s going to transform the revenues of Coventry City?”
Another idea was to make a Sky Blue Rolls-Royce available for wedding hire. Then, at the end of the meeting, someone asked if there was any other business and Hoffman remembers Sisu’s representative, Onye Igwe, raising his hand. “Onye said: ‘Yes, I want to raise the subject of our mascot.’ The club was going bust and he said: ‘I think Sky Blue Sam is too fat and it’s not setting a good example for children.’ That’s when Ray Ranson [the former chairman] said: ‘Onye, it’s a ******* elephant.’”
We are all probably aware of what has happened to Coventry since and why Southampton should thank their lucky stars that Sisu (who also expressed an interest in Derby County and looked at Manchester City before Thaksin Shinawatra’s takeover) ended up somewhere else.
On the one hand, there is a Southampton side that have just beaten Internazionale to show, again, why they should be regarded as the prime example of what can happen at a medium-sized club that applies common sense, a sound business structure, makes shrewd appointments and understands what a football team means to the local community.
On the other hand, there is a desperate, grieving club where the supporters old enough to remember the crumbling terraces of tatty, homely Highfield Road must pine for more innocent times and the scandal runs so deep John Sillett, one of the great names from Coventry’s past, has shed tears while talking about it publicly.
Coventry have already suffered the indignity of a 68-mile round trip to Sixfields, Northampton Town’s ground, to play their “home” matches and the really galling part is that however much the supporters protest, however many frothy column pieces are written, and whatever you or I might like to do about it, the owners still continue with the same cold detachment.
The club have no stadium agreement beyond next season, the training ground could be sold off for housing and their academy is at risk of closure. Coventry look like they have been dragged through a hedge fund backwards and the scary thing is it might get even worse. The club, in Gilbert’s opinion, face the “very real possibility of dropping out of the Football League completely in the coming years unless something dramatic happens to change their fortunes for the better”.
When we spoke on Friday it was the morning after Southampton had beaten Inter, six years to the week since the south-coast club faced Dagenham & Redbridge in League One. “Most supporters probably thought Coventry City had got one over on Southampton by attracting Sisu,” Gilbert said. “In reality, Southampton dodged a bullet.”