Chelsea back down after asking for Middlesbrough FA Cup tie to be behind closed doors

15 March 2022, 15:40 | Updated: 15 March 2022, 18:48

Chelsea want their FA quarter-final played behind closed doors. Inset: Roman Abramovich
Chelsea want their FA quarter-final played behind closed doors. Inset: Roman Abramovich. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Chelsea have withdrawn their request to play Saturday's FA cup quarter final against Middlesbrough behind closed doors.

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The club had previously claimed it would be in the interest of "sporting integrity" because they're not allowed to sell any away tickets - due to sanctions against club owner Roman Abramovich.

The Government blocked the Blues from selling tickets for the match after Mr Abramovich was sanctioned by Downing Street because of his political ties to Russia.

Middlesbrough dismissed the request from the club as "both bizarre and without any merit whatsoever", adding the mention of "sporting integrity" was "ironic in the extreme".

According to Politico, a senior government source said Chelsea "should spend less time worrying about having a few thousand fans at one game, and focus on moving their club into the hands of someone who isn't linked to a warmonger".

READ MORE: Chelsea's bank account frozen by Barclays as Abramovich sanctions leave club in turmoil

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Under the sanctions Mr Abramovich must not profit in the UK, with Chelsea blocked from selling any more tickets under the terms of a strict operating licence.

The club held talks with the Government but failed to gain a softening on the ticket stance.

Chelsea then asked for no fans to be allowed to attend Saturday's match at the Riverside Stadium.

A statement said: "It is important for the competition that the match against Middlesbrough goes ahead, however it is with extreme reluctance that we are asking the FA board to direct that the game be played behind closed doors for matters of sporting integrity.

"Chelsea FC recognises that such an outcome would have a huge impact on Middlesbrough and its supporters, as well as our own fans who have already bought the limited number of tickets that were sold before the licence was imposed, but we believe this is the fairest way of proceeding in the current circumstances."

Tom Swarbrick blasts Chelsea's demand to have FA Cup game without fans

Middlesborough responded: "All concerned are well aware of the reasons Chelsea have been sanctioned and that this has nothing to do with Middlesbrough Football Club.

"To suggest as result that MFC and our fans should be penalised is not only grossly unfair but without any foundation.

"Given the reasons for these sanctions, for Chelsea to seek to invoke sporting "integrity" as reason for the game being played behind closed doors is ironic in the extreme.

"We currently await formal notification from the FA of the next steps but rest assured MFC will resist Chelsea's actions in the strongest terms."

Politico reported that a senior government source said: "We are working around the clock to enable Chelsea to continue operating as a club in the interests of the fans.

"This statement threatening Middlesborough and the rest of the football league shows they do not seem to understand the seriousness of the situation they are in, being owned by an entity that has been sanctioned because of links to a person responsible for appalling acts in Ukraine.

Iain Dale reacts to Roman Abramovich being sanctioned by the UK Government

"We are not opposed to Chelsea having fans at games in the long run, but we will not allow money from ticket sales to flow to a sanctioned entity.

"Chelsea should spend less time worrying about having a few thousand fans at one game, and focus on moving their club into the hands of someone who isn't linked to a warmonger."

An FA spokesperson said: "We are aware of Chelsea FC's request to play their Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final tie against Middlesbrough FC behind closed doors. The matter will be discussed at the Professional Game Board meeting tomorrow."

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham was being grilled by a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee at the time the news broke about Chelsea's request.

Pushed for a response from the parliamentary panel, he said: "When we step back and look at what the Government is trying to achieve with the sanctions on Mr Abramovich, it's clearly to put pressure on Mr Putin.

"I don't believe the intention is to prevent Chelsea fans going to games or away fans to come to Stamford Bridge. It's incredibly complicated to put a sanction in place at short notice and that will all need working through.

"I think the end-state will be something where the Government lends a licence to allow fans to go to games. I think that hasn't been possible in time for this weekend."

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