22 years have passed and the trend is rising Coventry city last graced the premier leagueover two decades full of ups and downs, more necessary ups than Result riddled with defeats, a whole chapter and more of club history written outside of the game’s elite.
Once synonymous with top-flight football, the Sky Blues have iconic ’90s names – if not always quite elite – throughout the team. They took part in the inaugural Premier League season in 1992/93 and remained part of this fledgling top flight for the first nine years. They’ve finished bottom half every season, but they’ve always been there, always tough opponents, and always brought players with a backstory, a bright future, or both.
But a generation of football fans have never seen Coventry among the top clubs. There has been a sea change at England’s highest level since they have been on the ground; They left the club in 2001, two years before Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, and could now return a year after the sale.
While billions were moved in the transfer market and broadcast deals in Coventry’s absence, they embarked on an altogether more painful journey; should they complete the comeback and win on May 27th EFL Championship In the play-off final, they will become the first team to be relegated from the Premier League to the fourth tier… and then all the way up again.
However, before they can dream of it, they need to defeat Middlesbrough in a two-legged semi-final.
The first of these games will take place on home soil. A generation ago that would have been Highfield Road. For those who haven’t followed the fortunes and failures of Coventry’s owners since then, the memorable old stadium where they played for over a century was demolished in 2005. They moved to the Ricoh Arena but less than ten years later there was a pitch there. Leasing issues and disagreements led to the team spending a season at Sixfields in Northampton, 33 miles away. Returning within the city limits lasted only a few more years, with the 19/20 and 20/21 seasons being spent playing home games at St Andrew’s in Birmingham – this time 23 miles away and in the opposite direction to Sixfields.
Two seasons ago at the renamed Ricoh, the Coventry Building Society Arena has now followed suit with a ten-year deal to play there, seemingly securing the club’s immediate future in terms of a home ground – but the stadium owners have since been bought out and Coventry have done so So far, the only agreement has been to stay until the end of this campaign.
Things didn’t get much better closer to home.
Investment group Sisu Capital bought Sky Blues in 2007 to avoid bankruptcy, but under the leadership of Ray Ranson, the club faltered financially and on the pitch. The dissolution and relegation to the second division painted a bleak picture. The EFL Trophy in 2017 and being promoted back to League One in 2018 offered far more hope.
Doug King, a local businessman, Only a few months ago, the full takeover was finally completed and immediately insisted on a future of “transparency and clarity”, noting that the club had no debt and no interest to be paid on the loans extended to it. However, he failed to secure the purchase of the stadium, leaving work there until next season to be done.
But even that question mark only gives cause for excitement if Coventry can achieve the most unlikely finish of this campaign.
When King took sole ownership on 27 January – four months to the day before the play-off final – Coventry were 15th in the Championship. They had won nine games and lost ten all season. They had a negative goal difference.
Their first game of the new era came the next day and they won – and did so consistently, in nine of their last 19 games, losing only twice. Mark Robins has pulled off nothing short of a minor miracle in this craziest league of all leagues and it’s worth noting that on the last day of the regular season they played twice more away against the very team they are now playing. A 1-1 draw at ‘Boro didn’t add much for either side, while Coventry won their early-season clash on home soil.
Robins is, of course, the former striker who – as myth, legend or, to some extent, tell the truth – saved Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United career from the trophy in the early seasons by starring in a must-win FA Cup clash , scored a goal otherwise the Scot would have been sacked. Robins went on to play for Norwich and Leicester before spending the last decade or so continuously in the game. This spell at Coventry, his second at the club, is his sixth coaching job. He’s just three games away from giving fans their best event in decades. And they’ve had many of those memorable occasions.
This was a club that featured Dion Dublin, Noel Whelan, Darren Huckerby and Robbie Keane. And before that by Steve Ogrizovic, Roland Nilsson, Roy Wegerle, Gary McAllister and Peter Ndlovu. They were really exciting, talented and dedicated players who certainly could have played for the biggest teams – some actually did – if it had been an era like this, with top clubs constantly attacking those who are doing well .
Now fans will instead be looking to Viktor Gyokeres, Gustavo Hamer and Callum Doyle, filled with hope and fear that there is a long and difficult road ahead with just weeks before the final corner.
What lies behind it is almost entirely unknown, but it could also, in many ways, mark the most incredible turnaround the Premier League era has ever seen.