Coventry City fans have campaigned for months for a return to the Ricoh Arena[GETTY]
A truce has been called on the row that caused Coventry City to play home games in Northampton last season and approaching 30,000 fans will be in the Ricoh Arena for the League One game with Gillingham tonight.
Manager Steven Pressley, inevitably known as ‘Elvis’ and a former Coventry player himself, calls it the biggest moment in the club’s history since winning the FA Cup in 1987.
Ironically, it was that epic 3-2 win over Spurs that launched boardroom over ambition, boom followed by bigger bust, that saw Coventry leave Highfield Road and move to the Ricoh nine years ago.
But they could not afford it and rented the stadium. Relegation to League One followed, hedge fund SISU then became the new owners and labelled the annual £1.29million rent excessive and a row broke out between them, Arena Coventry Limited, who run the stadium, and Coventry City Council, who part-own the ground.
“Everything surrounding the club at the moment typifies how important it is to city,” said Pressley.
“Last night there were 200-300 people camping out to get tickets. This will be the most emotional day since winning the FA Cup.
“A return to the Ricoh is a major step in a return to our history.”
A deal has been done on the £1.3m owed in unpaid rent and Coventry are back at the Ricoh for two years with a further two-year option. It does smack of short-termism and the rocky road from Highfield Road might not yet be over.
Long-time fans, although breathing a sigh of relief that the exile in Northampton is over, are cautious.
Frank Pritchard helps run the Coventry ex-players association and has been a supporter since they were in the old Division Three (South). He, his two sons, grandson Sonny and granddaughter Ava are all fans.
“The club took off in the 1960s due to the vision of local businessman Derrick Robins, who appointed Jimmy Hill as manager,” said Pritchard.
Hill took Coventry from the moribund to members of the top flight for 34 years. But decline set in just as the Sky Blues were moving house.
“I talked it over with my sons who agreed I should renew my season ticket and travel to Northampton,” said Pritchard.
“It was a difficult decision for all of us. But it is the team and the manager we support, not the owners or the company that manages the stadium. We’re Coventry City supporters for life.”
Steven Pressley’s Coventry are unbeaten in five games [GETTY]
Coventry’s average home gate at Northampton was only 2,348, the lowest in the division. Nineteen months ago there were 31,054 in the Ricoh when they played Crewe in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
With 25,000 tickets already sold for tonight, and despite Gillingham only bringing 300 fans, there could be another 30,000 full house for this rebirth of the club.
Dean Nelson, a fan since 1968, said: “The Sky Blue rollercoaster has finally pulled in back at the Ricoh Arena and what an emotional journey it has been.
“It has split long-standing relationships between fans. Those who attended matches in Northampton had to put up with abuse from fellow supporters the like of which I have never seen since crossing the picket line during the miners’ strike in the 1980s.”
Paul Pritchard, 35, is a local government manager in Salisbury and has been going to games since 1990.
“I’m a Coventry fan of an era when top-flight football was the norm and transfer windows weren’t just made up of freebies or loan signings,” he said. “We broke the British transfer record for a teenager.
“I know I need a dose of reality and to accept the days of Robbie Keane, Dion Dublin, Kevin Gallagher and David Speedie are long gone. But the minimum I expect of my team is that they at least have the potential to once again reach the promised land of the Premier League.”
For now, at least, Coventry and Elvis are back in the building.
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