Chelsea remove request to play Middlesbrough match behind closed doors after backlash

Chelsea withdrew their request to the FA just hours after submitting the proposal

Chelsea have removed their request to play Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final at Middlesbrough behind closed doors, completing a remarkable U-Turn after their original proposal to play the match without fans was greeted with derision.

Middlesbrough labelled Chelsea’s attempts to play the match in an empty stadium as “bizarre and without merit” while adding the club’s claim that allowing home supporters to attend risked “sporting integrity” was “ironic in the extreme”.

The Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson said Chelsea’s request had been “pathetic” while it was also met with criticism from the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust.

Chelsea had applied for the tie at the Riverside Stadium to take place behind closed doors after they were not allowed to sell any more away tickets for the match due to the sanctions placed on club owner Roman Abramovich.

The Premier League side, who are seeking amendments to the operating license handed to them by the UK Government that has allowed the club to continue with “football-related activities”, are not permitted to make money through the selling of match tickets or club merchandise under the restrictions.

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Chelsea said discussions had been held on allowing a full contingent of away supporters to make the trip to Middlesbrough for the match on Saturday evening but that a deadline had passed without the necessary changes being made to the license.

Middlesbrough, who have sold out the Riverside Stadium ahead of the club’s biggest match of the season, responded with a strongly-worded statement criticising the proposal while the FA said they would meet to discuss Chelsea’s request on Wednesday.

However, a statement provided by the FA on Tuesday evening confirmed the U-Turn, and read: “After constructive talks between the FA and Chelsea, the club has agreed to remove their request for the 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, while ensuring sanctions are respected.”

A spokesperson for Prime Minster Boris Johnson confirmed that discussions with Chelsea to amend its operating license were ongoing and that the Government were “working to ensure more fans can attend away games”.

However the spokesperson added: “But this must be compatible with the licence, so no additional revenue can be raised, given the club is owned by an individual now sanctioned in the UK.

“So we will continue to work with them but we think our our approach is entirely reasonable in the circumstances.”

The earlier Chelsea statement read: “We are disappointed to announce we will not be able to sell tickets for Saturday’s FA Cup tie at Middlesbrough. Despite engaging in extensive discussions with the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI), the deadline to purchase away tickets has passed without appropriate amendments being made to the Government licence which would allow a full allocation of Chelsea supporters to attend. Executives at Middlesbrough had been kind enough to extend their deadline for ticket sales and stadium allocation from 7.30pm last night until 9.30am this morning.

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“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.

“We will continue to discuss the issue of ticket sales with OFSI as there are a number of fixtures still to be played this season and we hope to reach a resolution.”

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