Chelsea back down over 'bizarre' request to get FA Cup match played without fans

Blues U-turn on bid to play match against Middlesbrough behind closed doors

Chelsea have requested the FA Cup tie with Middlesbrough be played without any fans in attendance. PA
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Chelsea have withdrawn their “bizarre” request to get Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Middlesbrough at the Riverside played behind closed doors.

A Football Association spokesperson confirmed the club have stepped back from the demand following “constructive talks”.

News of Chelsea’s initial request earlier on Tuesday had incensed the hosts, who labelled it “bizarre and without any merit whatsoever”.

An FA spokesperson said: “After constructive talks between the FA and Chelsea, the club has agreed to remove their request for the Emirates FA Cup quarter-final tie against Middlesbrough to be played behind closed doors.

“The FA remains in ongoing discussions with Chelsea, the Premier League and the Government to find a solution that would enable both Chelsea fans to attend games and away fans to attend Stamford Bridge, whilst ensuring sanctions are respected.”

The Blues have lobbied the Government over relaxations to the operating licence put in place after owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned by Downing Street.

Russian billionaire Abramovich must not profit in the UK under the Government sanctions and Chelsea are blocked from selling any more tickets under the terms of their new licence.

And, after talks with the Government failed to yield a softening on that ticket stance, the Blues questioned the “sporting integrity” of the match should Chelsea fans be barred from attending.

Boro did not hold back in their response, claiming it was “ironic in the extreme” that the Blues were seeking to invoke sporting “integrity” as the reason to get the game played at an empty stadium.

The Teessiders said in a statement: “We are aware of Chelsea’s request to have Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup sixth-round tie played behind closed doors and find their suggestion both bizarre and without any merit whatsoever.

“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.”

Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson, citing the many trophies won during Abramovich’s 19-year reign, told The Athletic: “Chelsea and sporting integrity do not belong in the same sentence.

“Where is the intellect of the chairman of Chelsea (Bruce Buck) when it comes to playing his games at home in front of his season ticket holders? Does he want to play all his away games at empty stadiums?”

Chelsea said in their statement that Boro had been “kind enough” to extend their deadline for ticket sales until Tuesday morning, but Gibson’s patience had seemingly run out.

“We’re not going to try and help them any more,” he added.

Chelsea’s earlier 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.”

Former Chelsea and England defender Graham Le Saux branded the statement “either ignorant or arrogant”.

He said on Twitter: “I can’t think of a more embarrassing statement to come out of the club that I played for for 12yrs. Either ignorant or arrogant. I am confident it doesn’t represent the feelings of the coaching and playing staff.”

Chelsea Supporters’ Trust revealed it had asked the club to withdraw the request for the game to be played behind closed doors, while the Government saw “no reason” why the match should be played without fans.

Updated: March 15, 2022, 6:00 PM