ONE month ago, fans of Coventry City FC were contemplating
another year in exile, as they began a second season playing home
games 32 miles away, in Northampton, after a rent dispute with the
company that runs their home ground, Ricoh Arena in Coventry.
On Friday, however, more than 27,000 fans streamed into the
Arena to watch the Sky Blues defeat Gillingham 1-0, after the
year-long deadlock was broken, thanks in no small part to Coventry
The dispute over rent flared up between the club's hedge-fund
owners Sisu, and the company running the council-owned Ricoh Arena,
in 2012. It eventually led to Coventry City's leaving the city to
play home games at a stadium in Northampton, where crowd numbers
fell as low as 1500.
The Dean of Coventry, the Very Revd John Witcombe, said on
Friday that the city was despondent, and most fans doubted that the
two sides could ever come to a compromise to bring the Sky Blues
"We were beginning to pray on a fairly regular basis for the
people involved," Dean Witcombe said. "I was approached with a
suggestion that various of the key people around the dispute would
be willing to get into a dialogue and a conversation. What we
actually brought to the table, was the table itself."
At a secret meeting in a London restaurant, Dean Witcombe
introduced the different parties to Bill Marsh, a mediator who had
worked with Coventry Cathedral's reconciliation-ministry team
before, and, by chance, had experience of negotiating a similar
"We have got a long history of bringing different sides together
and being able to make a difference in that way," Dean Witcombe
said. "What did we bring that made a significant difference? It was
being able to invite people into a different sort of conversation,
where people are able to meet together as human beings rather than
in the blaze of publicity or across a courtroom."
The details of the agreement eventually hammered out with the
help of Mr Marsh have not been released, but on 21 August it was
announced that a two-year deal had been agreed between Sisu and the
Arena management to bring Coventry City home.
Dean Witcombe said that the cathedral's involvement had been the
feather that tipped the balance. "I think the offer of Bill as a
mediator helped, but then I would put something down to the power
of prayer, and the belief that God can make a difference. Our
history here is that things that seem impossible can become
possible." It was also "high time" Coventry Cathedral's
world-famous peace and reconciliation work began to make a
difference in Coventry itself, he said.