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Rumours And Lies

Saturday morning, 4 August, 2001. One week to go to the start of the new season, Coventry City’s first in Nationwide League, Division One – and hopefully their last!

Starting my day by flicking through the myriad of channels now brought my way via the recently acquired mini-dish bolted to the side of my house I stumble across Carlton Palmer being interviewed on Sky Sports Saturday morning soccer preview show.

Needless to say he was quizzed closely about the departure to Celtic of his “good friend” John Hartson.

“I do know,” Carlton confided to the interviewer, “that John had promised Coventry City that he would stay with them. The reasons for that and then for his change of mind are private to John, but my understanding is that when John was told about Celtic’s interest he was told that they were offering between £1-million and £3-million.

“Whether he changed his mind when he found out that the bid had gone up to between £6-million and £7-million, I don’t know, but Coventry now face the worry of having to replace him and I can’t see anyone being prepared to sell them a striker. Last season, we all knew at Christmas that we were going down because we had no-one to score goals. With John gone, they’ve got the same problem there now."

Sitting next to Carlton on the Sky Sports sofa was former Southampton striker Ian Dowie. He chipped in:

“John Hartson’s so-called ‘treachery’ had made Coventry a profit of £5-million.”

“Will that money win them promotion?” he was asked.

“Like Carlton says,” replied Dowie, “who’s going to sell them a striker? I mean, Lee Hughes moving from West Brom to Coventry is just too controversial to happen. I can’t see it myself.”

On a different channel, Leeds United manager David O’Leary commented on the question of loyalty.

“I disregard contracts completely now,” he said. “They don’t mean anything any more. Here at Leeds, my Chairman has done a fantastic job persuading the players to stay when some of them could well have moved on, but it’s got nothing to do with contracts. It’s all to do with personal commitment, which players should remember, has to be a two-way street.”

So, Coventry City are, for the second successive season, facing a new start with the loss of their prime goal-scorer. Last time it was Robbie Keane, now it’s John Hartson.

Gordon Strachan has already brought in veteran Phil Massinga and says he hopes to have another new man in before next Saturday’s kick-off at Stockport.

Let’s hope that’s all he has to worry about with reports of Liverpool renewing their interest in ‘keeper Chris Kirkland while Everton apparently want Magnus Hedman.

While all this is going on, the pub talk is about the players leaving and the cash rolling in.

Typical of what is being said is this overheard snippet:

“the current word is the Chairman is selling as many players as he can to cut debts and the wage bill and he will then look for an exit route for himself so someone else can rebuild the club with fresh funds."

Similar versions of that are being voiced by those who claim to know, or at least claim to know someone who knows.

Whether there is any truth in it, I do not know. I do know, however, that the Chairman, Bryan Richardson has never ducked any direct question I have put to him, either as part of a radio or TV interview or privately and off the record.

Have I asked him whether this latest rumour has any truth to it? Simply, no, because if he said “no”, those who prefer to repeat the story would just say “well, he’s hardly likely to admit is he?” and what follows from that is that he is hardly likely to say “yes”.

I have also been reporting football in general and in Coventry in particular long enough to know that stories that do the rounds on the streets may have a grain of truth to them, but usually don’t, yet gather momentum and become more and more embellished as they do so.

So, believe it if you like. I will simply repeat what Bryan Richardson said to me when I asked him about the likelihood of a takeover of the club by nightclub owner George Hendry.

As I reported on CWN at that time, Bryan’s reply was “the board of Coventry City Football Club will always consider any serious proposal from anyone interested in investing in the club.”

And who would blame the Chairman if he did decide to call it a day and walk away from the stick and the criticism. You know the old saying that starts: “if you can’t stand the heat….”? Well, I reckon the Highfield Road kitchen has been as hot as it gets for the past couple of years and Bryan Richardson has stood the heat throughout.

So, if he really is thinking about moving on, good luck to him. Except, I’m not so sure that that’s his style.

Look at his reaction to the Hartson “treachery” as he saw it. Why was he clearly so genuinely angry if his only motive was to bring in a few million to help clear the books?

Hartson’s response was telling, too. He refused to criticise the Chairman who he described as “a great guy”. John knows that until Coventry City came up with an innovative way of getting round his medical problem (and, by the way, he has NOT passed a medical at Celtic, not in the accepted sense anyway) he was stuck in a soccer backwater at Wimbledon.

You, as a Coventry City supporter, will have your own view, your own opinion of Bryan Richardson and the job he has done and continues to do as Chairman. You are perfectly entitled to that view.

All I can tell you is that, at first hand, Bryan has only ever been straight and completely fair with me as both a representative of the media, as a private individual, and as a Sky Blues supporter.

I have no particular axe to grind on his behalf or otherwise. Like other fans, there are some decisions that have been taken, for which Bryan has no doubt been at least in part responsible that I have queried and disagreed with, just as there have been actions taken that I have applauded loud and long.

So when you hear the pub talk and the street gossip, make up your own mind.

Will Bryan Richardson still be part of the club twelve months from now? Is he balancing the books by selling players for his own sake or is he working, with the bank manager and other investors in mind, to keep the finances in line? Will the new stadium ever be built, with or without it becoming the new National Stadium? Will we have a squad good enough for Gordon Strachan to work with and take us back to the Premiership?

Just remember there is more going on than either you or I know about or, probably, will ever know.

What was the title of that great Fleetwood Mac album from years ago? Oh yes, 'Rumours And Lies'.

Could have been about football, couldn’t it?

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CWN / Sport / Football / Coventry City FC / Stuart Linnell / 4 Aug 01
©1995-2001 Coventry Internet Developments Ltd This page updated 27 May 2010