Dan Donovan interviews Mike McGinnity

Mike McGinnity is a man who is never afraid to speak his mind, although what he says and what he actually means are often unclear, mainly due to the people reporting on him.

With so much happening at the club, I arranged an interview so a fan, with no separate agenda, could challenge Mr. McGinnity and ask questions that the fans are asking. My hope was that with a one on one meeting, the Chairman would be honest, open and genuine. This way, I could then ‘report back’ without distorting the facts.

My questioning started on the future, and the Jaguar Arena. McGinnity revealed that we are still on target, and that we should have no worries about delays even with the possibility of a bad winter – because by then, the workers should hopefully be working on the inside, as the steelwork and the groundwork should be finished. In the event of a ‘disaster’ the club would have to go to the F.A to make new arrangement, as Highfield Road is set to conclude being auctioned off at the end of the season.

Speaking of the Jaguar sponsorship, the Chairman assured me that the seats will be Sky Blue – not green (or Jaguar’s soon to be silver colour) and that the décor is not something that will be affected. He did reveal that a 60ft silver Jaguar will be on the roof, facing the A444.

None of the reported 7million sponsorship fee will go back into the football club, as the money is being used to justify the 21 million shortfall that the council had when they saved the project. This will not change until the next deal is negotiated, regardless of whether the club have purchased a percentage of the Arena by then.

Speaking of a future purchase, the Chairman stressed the club’s intention to buy the 50% that the Alan Higgs charity own. The fee will start at 6.5 million but there will be some interest depending on the time between the Arena’s opening and when the club have the funds to buy it. I asked whether we would ever own 100% to which the unfortunate answer was no – as we missed the opportunity due to lack of funds when Richardson first proposed a new stadium.

In other stadium news, the big virtual scoreboard has been given to go-ahead.

The Wall of Fame scheme has gone well, with just over 3000 bricks being sold – so a rough sales total of Ł120,000. The walls will be split into sections and named after Sky Blue Legends.

Some fantastic news for City fans regards ticket prices. I commented about new ticket prices, to which the Chairman enthusiastically replied that our supporters will be ‘very, very pleased.’ He went on to say “Our supporters are our bread and butter – they are the backbone of this club - and it would be stupid to neglect them when they have supported us so well.” His comments seemed genuine, and although a price is not yet fixed (as a survey asking fans their opinions on it, and other Arena matters, is set to be published in the near future) it sounds like we can expect a fairly painless rise – if there is one at all.

We talked about the start of next season, and the Chairman said there will one big ‘curtain raiser’ to start the season. He said that his friend Freddy Shepard has offered to bring the Newcastle 1st team down, but the Chairman is hoping for a international team – a Champions League side perhaps – depending on the costs. There will only be the one game for a few reasons – to begin with, the Arena isn’t handed over to the club until end of July and secondly, the quality of the pitch is essential, and so one game is a limit.

I questioned the use of Bernt Killat and the Germany tours, to which the Chairman replied that Killat is ‘a nice guy, who does his best’. The trips are also free to the club, although McGinnity thinks that Peter Reid might prefer to try something different next season.

To round up our discussion on the Arena, I asked the Chairman what it meant to him as it develops at such a rapid pace. McGinnity’s persistence and effort helped save the project and in effect secured our future. Always the businessman, McGinnity said:

“I set a three year plan when I arrived as Chairman – I wanted to get the debt down, which I have achieved to some extent, I wanted to reduce the players wages dramatically and I wanted to get the Arena back on track. The fourth objective – and the biggest – was to get back into the Premiership – and that is what I strive for.”

“People ask why I have put pressure on Peter – but I haven’t – all I am saying is that this is our ambition and if you take ambition of any business, or any sport, then you might as well close the doors.”

The Chairman’s genuine response did seem to omit the pressure he has put himself under, so I asked why he put his neck on the block.

“I’ve been accused of saying things off the cuff where I should have bitten my tongue. However, I don’t want to go on until the fans are chanting ‘McGinnity out’ – I’ll know the time is right. If some fans want me to honour what I’ve said, we’ll have a vote on it – and I’ll abide by that.”

At this point McGinnity, looking me straight in the eye, and seeming to be recalling some of his days in charge, commented that:

“This has been the hardest job I have ever had. I’ve gone home worrying about, gone to bed worrying about it, woke up in the middle of the night worrying about it and then woke up in the morning still worrying about it…because we have so close to going out of business.”

I can honestly say that the Chairman wasn’t reading that off a script or had rehearsed it…I couldn’t help my struck with the obvious pain he’d feel if he had to leave the club after just achieving two of his main objectives. Love him or hate him, the Chairman is obviously passionate about his job and the club and I think it is unfair to question that…

Starting with Jojar Dhinsa, the Chairman told the story about the Hilton, also adding that ‘he didn’t have a clue about football’. He went on to say:

“I do not believe, according to information I now know, that Dhinsa has the money he says he has – what annoys me is that he’s got everyone’s hopes up.”

At this point, the Chairman, clearly aggravated by Dhinsa’s radical claims, spent a minute searching for the board minutes, which discuss the young businessman’s plans, which show that although the board are willing to listen, Dhinsa is yet to show any substantial evidence that he could back up his claims.

We continued our discussion on Dhinsa, and I asked about the Gerard Houiller claim and how the Chairman reacted. He said that when he heard about this, he phoned Gerard and spoke to him personally. Houiller responded by saying: “Mr Chairman, with the greatest respect for Coventry City, I will not be joining them – I don’t know who this man is, and where he is getting this idea from.” Houiller also offered to ring Peter Reid to ‘put him in picture’. Once again, it seems Dhinsa is mixing fact with fiction, in what is fast becoming a hurtful and selfish attempt at gaining publicity.

I asked why the Chairman thinks Dhinsa has gone to such lengths if he isn’t serious, to which he responded: “Publicity – it’s all he wants. If someone really had 200m, not only would the door be open, but I’d take it off its hinges.

“As a board, we would want to know the status of the four Russians – we don’t know who they are, and we are certainly not going to let anybody come in and rape this club because of the property side. We would need to know who they are, but he isn’t prepared to tell us.”

McGinnity commented on his attitude calling him ‘an extremely arrogant guy.’ He recalled how Jojar had told him that they should have a few meetings so that he could decide whether he wanted to keep McGinnity at the club when he took over. McGinnity’s response that Dhinsa should remember that at the moment, as our Chairman, he is ‘holding the cards’, and it is a case of whether the club wish to work with him, not the other way round.

The Chairman did say however that he and the board members have an obligation to the fans as the custodians of the club and if he came and presented a genuine bid in a professional manner, they would analyse it and if it made sense for the club, a deal would be struck. However, the Chairman, like most fans, expects that Dhinsa, quite simply, is talking rubbish.

On the subject of investment, I asked if the club are trying to attract some. The Chairman mentioned the shrewdness of Eddie Jordan as a businessman and said that Jordan – and pointed out that like most businessmen, he is not stupid enough to throw his hard earned money away.

He also said that at the moment, the club owns nothing, earns nothing, is in over 20m debt and plays in the Championship – hardly an attractive offer – however, in a few years, hopefully the club will have reduced some debt, will have a stadium and will hopefully be in the Premiership – much more attractive reading.

We moved on to more general questions, with McGinnity admitting that he was disappointed with several results – but it is too early to say whether Reid is an improvement on Eric Black.

He also mentioned that one problem from last season was not having a striker, which he hopes Stern John will now become. He said that the table around January will reveal an improvement – or deterioration in our fortunes

Questioned on how he now thinks we’ll finish after seeing the start to the season for both ourselves and other teams, the Chairman said he ‘wouldn’t be as bold to say we’re going to get automatic promotion but I’d be disappointed if we didn’t make the playoffs.’

I felt this would be a good opportunity to get some clarity on situations that have become hazy with age – one was the 12.5% wage deferral the players took a couple of season back. The Chairman informed me that all the money had been reinstated and nothing is now owed – the reason it was done was because it was a very, very difficult time at the club.

Mr McGinnity then, with a somewhat reflective tone, spoke of administration. The fantastic news is that we are stable, and should continue to be hopefully for many years. He did speak of there being hours rather than days when our beloved club nearly went into administration. We all took a moment to reflect on that. McGinnity also revealed that the board and the McGinnity family have invested a further 2m in loans to the club in order to keep it in business – loans which will not carry any interest until 2008, by which time the club should hopefully be able to pay them off. People often criticise the board – we all have at some point – but not many businessmen have invested so much of their own money just because of their passion to succeed and not let our club go out of business.

Regardless of the past, and any reservations people might still hold, without our current regime, we might well be in a situation where we would be supporting an AFC Coventry or Coventry Sphinx…it’s important to remember that.

As for our debts, they are at 23m – a 37m decrease - mainly because of the contracts we bought out – we will only ever start to break even when we move to the Jag. He said that once a gentleman asked what is would take to break even – it worked out, that we needed a gate of 84,000 a week.

Like most fans, and the Chairman himself, the Davenport transfer is something we want to draw a line under, but before we do, I asked for a few details on the deal. He revealed that we have been paid 550k already, and will receive another 550k in May. We will also receive payments after 20, 40 and 60 appearances and also if he makes an appearance for England. There might be other fees, but if there are, the Chairman chose not to reveal them. He did call the transfer a ‘disaster’ saying that he was disappointed Calum wanted to leave and that, as reported, when the club asked for a loan deal of any length, Spurs said no, indicating to CCFC that he would be playing first team football straight away. The club would have made an effort to put a clause in to stop a loan, but due to FA Regulations they couldn’t – also, if they had insisted, there might have been no deal.

When the board and Peter Reid heard the rumours about the West Ham loan – before the deal was complete – Reid spoke to Davenport one on one and asked him if he knew he was going to West Ham. Davenport said he knew nothing about it. The quote from Davenport that appeared on the West Ham site after he signed, saying ‘I knew I was coming to West Ham’ therefore creates a pretty bad picture of the centre back. This is apparently what is ‘sticking in Peter Reid’s side’ – the fact that Davenport lied when he had no need to.

The club are seeking permission to have the option of selling the Sky Blue Lodge as some board members feel it would be more beneficial to the academy players to be at home rather than having to board. With the big move of all the academy levels to the Alan Higgs Charity Centre – which the Chairman described as stunning – the club would like to have the option of selling it, although this is not a certainty.

One of my last questions was about the Trust. Without the pressure of having a room full of Trust members, I wanted to see what the Chairman truly thought. He acknowledged his apprehensions due to the horror stories of Trusts that form and take over clubs – but he said their work has been ‘nothing short of magnificent’ – in particular the Green Transport plan. As long as the Trust continue to work for the benefit of the club, the Chairman will welcome them with open arms

With that, our meeting came to a close. As I stated at the start of this interview, I’m a fan with no agenda, and I can only give you my honest thoughts. They are that our Chairman may not be the best in the world, but he’s a long way from being the worst. What’s important is that he does have a genuine passion to succeed. This has become more than a business for McGinnity - and it is something he will not allow himself to fail at. We’ve all questioned the decisions of our Chairman – only time will tell us whether those decisions we question are right or not.

But lest we forget the fact that we still have a football club – because, to quote the Chairman, we were so close to going out of business.