This is weird. Last week I (Neil) was invited down to Ryton to have a chat with new Coventry City Executive Vice Chairman Chris Anderson.
Now, I’m no Martin Bashir or Lizo Mzimba, so there was never any intention of this becoming a hard-hitting interrogation. The idea was to have a chat about things, ask a few questions about the club, and get a better feel for the role Chris has come here to do.
Having just finished re-watching The Sopranos, I acknowledged that there was a slim chance of me getting whacked, but attended anyway. As I drove into the pitch black Ryton car park, the looming figure of Jack Finch followed me with his eyes as I sought a sensible parking space. Unsettled by his wily stare and seemingly detachable head (hilarious team photo reference), I resided in the safety of the car and dropped Head of Communications Keiran Crowley a text. Finch soon disappeared into the night and the shadow of KC greeted me by the side entrance. It was after hours so he had stayed late, but he took me on a quick tour of Ryton to showcase the improvements Big Tony’s implemented over the summer and I have to admit it certainly has a stronger “Coventry City” feel about it nowadays.
The chat with Chris Anderson was interesting. We spoke on a range of subjects for a good hour, and he seemed relaxed, decent, and even kept his cool when we were inexplicably interrupted by an over-eager cleaner wielding the world’s loudest Henry.
Over the course of the next few days I’ll be posting short summaries of the different parts to the discussion. I was allowed to record the entire chat too so this will be available for you to listen to in a couple of days as well. But for now here’s part one, and we started (unsurprisingly) with Chris giving an update on how things are going regarding the stadium.
Chris Anderson on… the Stadium:
Q: How are things progressing with the stadium situation?
It’s going well. I think we’re exploring all the options. I think we’re having good, productive conversations with people. We’re making progress, I guess is how I’d describe it. I hope to be able to announce something relatively soon.
Q: Is this progress in terms of knowing if we’re moving away or staying at the Ricoh?
No, progress in terms of clarifying what the options really are. When you come into a new job like this, you sort of understand the lay of the land; you understand that there’s a stadium and a particular relationship we have with the landlord. When you first come into it you have to understand what does the lease actually say? What is actually in it? You read it, you try to understand what the conditions are. What the condition under which you might stay. It’s simply that kind of fact finding process.
When I say we’re making progress, what I mean by that is the work we have done has been very clarifying in terms of understanding really what the options are, and what it would take to stay longer term and what the other options are on the table at this time.
A lot of people think the stadium situation is relatively straightforward. You stay or you go. It sounds very simple – it actually isn’t that simple. There are a number of existing agreements around the agreement, so to speak, and there’s a particular history around the parties involved.
Yes, it’s the Ricoh Arena. But actually it’s an arena that’s owned by a new set of owners. It’s the same building owned by different people and so they have a different set of priorities, perhaps a different set of goals for the arena than other people might have had before them. I think the same is true of the football club. Perhaps the conditions under which we moved into the arena are different from the conditions under which we want to stay today.
Everything is in a state of flux a little bit and we’re just getting back to the basics of “what is the agreement?”, “what does it say?”, “what would it take to stay?”, “What would it take to go?” That is what we’ve been doing. We’re hoping to get to a point relatively soon where we can tell people a bit more about where we’re going to be. What I can tell you is I feel pretty good about it.
I completely appreciate that there’s an anxiety about the future of the club and where we’re going to play football because of our recent history. I understand that’s something people don’t wish to repeat. We have to make sure we get the right deal. I think fans understand that. They want the club to thrive. They want as much money as possible to come into the club so we can put money onto the pitch. That’s all of our goals.
We want to win games. To the extent that a stadium deal allows us to generate money that can then be used to generate wins, that’s what we’re all after. That’s the ultimate goal.
Q: But do you have an ideal solution for what we should do next?
I have one priority. To find a long term solution. I don’t think we can live by these temporary agreements. There’s an option to stay at the Ricoh for two years, but frankly two years is nothing. It’s such a short period of time so we need to make sure we have a long-term solution to the stadium problem; not a stopgap solution.
I’ll be willing to live with the anxiety of the supporters, they’ll have to forgive me. But if we can find a longer solution I think everyone will be happy with that kind of certainty so I’m just asking for a little bit of patience on that for the time being.
I’m more impatient than anyone else. I would like it settled tomorrow. I would like to be able to tell everyone “this is where we’re going to be for the next 20, 30, 40 years” but we’re not at that point at this time.
Q: It’s been so long it comes to a point where people would like to understand the preference though. What would the club really like to do?
I’m agnostic. I’m willing to stay under the right conditions, I’m willing to go somewhere else under the right conditions.
I’m not wedded to geography but I am wedded to staying in Coventry, playing in Coventry, staying here long term in a way that allows us to participate in our own success. What I mean by that is if we put a winning team on the pitch and bring people to the arena, we need to be able to generate resources from that. Use those resources for the good of the club. That’s the key, that’s my preference.
Whether it’s this particular postcode or that postcode, I don’t care because ultimately I think my job is to safeguard the future of the club. What we really need are a little more calm waters. A little bit more longer term thinking; long term planning.
Sustainability is a key word people use a lot but I really believe it in. I really want us to be back in the right place, long term. That’s the goal. If we can achieve that, and I think we can, then I think everyone will be happy. Wherever it may be.
Q: Are you working to any deadlines?
There are some self-imposed deadlines and real deadlines. The real deadline of course is we need to have a place to play football next season.
The Ricoh contract finishes at the end of this season so that’s a really hard deadline obviously. We need to be somewhere. We have to kick off on 8th August.
Truthfully of course that’s not the real deadline. The real deadline is one we set ourselves much earlier. We’ve been speaking to Wasps; we’ve been exploring all the other options on the table; the Football League and keeping them informed. Of course they have an interest in making sure everything is progressing as it should be. I’m on the phone with Shaun Harvey regularly updating him on what we’re doing so everyone has a much earlier deadline. Everyone would like it decide relatively soon.
Q: What’s the impact if we don’t find anywhere?
It’s not an option. It’s just simply not an option. It’s not an option we can entertain. It’s not even worth talking about. We will have a place to play – the question is really where.