Chelsea have asked the FA to move their quarter-final game against Middlesbrough behind closed doors as they will not be able to sell tickets to away fans for the game.
The Blues have been in dialogue with the UK government over changing the terms of the special license they have been operating under since Thursday, when owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned over his links to Vladimir Putin. The terms of this license currently mean that Chelsea are unable to sell additional tickets for home or away games, which the club has been working to change since its implementation.
However, they failed to reach an agreement with the British government in time, which means they cannot sell any tickets for the journey to the North East. Chelsea are now confident that if they can’t have supporters at the Riverside Stadium, neither should Middlesbrough, who have sold out all home tickets at their ground, which has a capacity of almost 35,000.
“Despite extensive discussions with the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI), the deadline to purchase tickets externally has passed without appropriate changes to the government license being made, which would allow full allocation of Chelsea supporters to attend,” Chelsea said in a statement. “Middlesbrough management have been kind enough to extend their ticket sales and stadium allocation deadline from 7.30pm last night to 9.30am this morning.
“It is important for the competition that the game against Middlesbrough goes ahead, but it is with extreme reluctance that we ask the FA board to order the game to be played behind closed doors for safety reasons. sporting integrity. Chelsea FC recognize that such a result would have a huge impact on Middlesbrough and its supporters, as well as on our own fans who have already bought the limited number of tickets sold before the imposition of the license, but we believe that is the fairest way to proceed in the current circumstances.
“We will continue to discuss the issue of ticket sales with the OFSI as there are still a number of matches to be played this season and we hope to reach a solution.”
In response, Middlesbrough, who beat Manchester United and Tottenham to reach the last eight, questioned why they should be punished for Abramovich’s links to a Russian regime waging war in Ukraine.
“We are aware of Chelsea’s request to play the Emirates FA Cup sixth round tie on Saturday behind closed doors and find their suggestion both bizarre and without any merit,” their statement read. “All concerned are well aware of the reasons Chelsea have been sanctioned and that it has nothing to do with Middlesbrough Football Club.
“To suggest as a result that MFC and our fans should be penalized is not only grossly unfair but completely unfounded. Given the reasons for these penalties, Chelsea seek to invoke ‘sporting integrity’ as the reason the match is being played at behind closed doors is ironic in the extreme.
“We are currently awaiting official notification from the FA of the next steps, but rest assured that the MFC will stand up to Chelsea’s actions in the strongest terms.”
Meanwhile, the FA released a statement saying: “We are aware of Chelsea FC’s request to play their Emirates FA Cup quarter-final against Middlesbrough FC behind closed doors. The matter will be discussed at the Professional Game Board meeting tomorrow.”
At the time of the statement, FA chief executive Mark Bullingham was addressing the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, under fire for refusing to order Chelsea to play the game. Steven Brine, Tory MP for Winchester, said he should ‘tell Chelsea to put on your shin guards and boots and play the fucking game’.
Bullingham said: “Their argument is that not having a fan base has an impact on sporting competition. When we step back and look at what the government is trying to accomplish with Mr Abramovich’s sanction, it’s clearly to put pressure on Mr Putin.I don’t believe it’s the intention to stop Chelsea fans going to games or even away fans coming to Stamford Bridge.
“I also recognize that it is incredibly complicated to put in place a sanction in the short term and so my answer is that I hope and expect that fans will be allowed to attend both Stamford Bridge and the away matches.
“My personal view is that I would expect the game to go ahead, but I can’t say more as it would harm the talks.”
Their request may also open them up to tit for tat answers in future games. Brentford said on Thursday they are awaiting clarification on what will happen with away tickets they have yet to put on sale while future opponents including Wolverhampton Wanderers have no agreement on allocations in place and as such could not sell tickets unless a new license was in place. location. In these circumstances, these clubs might reasonably suggest that if Chelsea away games are to be played behind closed doors for ‘sporting integrity’ reasons, they should also lose any advantage they might derive from the presence of the Stamford Bridge season ticket holders.
The 530-mile round trip to Middlesbrough will be all the more complicated for Chelsea with their travel costs limited to $26,300 (£20,000) by the terms of the license. It won’t be a problem for their visit to Lille in the Champions League on Wednesday but ultimately, manager Thomas Tuchel has acknowledged, changes should be made.
“There are restrictions and we have to deal with them,” he said. “There are adjustments in the number of staff, who travel, the number of rooms we have in hotels and the way we get to matches. There will be some, as far as I know, that we can get to at the level professional.
“It’s not about luxury and bling. It’s just a professional level sport, where we play with two days between games with our opponent having four days between games and we come up with the possibilities of injuries.For this, it is better to arrive with a plane rather than a bus.
“We try to do it. From what I understand, we have a framework to go and play in Lille without any excuse. Compared to these organisations, it is already more difficult to arrange things in terms of professional, in the best possible way, for the FA Cup, but we will deal with it.
“As long as we have shirts and we are alive as a team, we will be competitive and fight hard for our success. We owe it to the people who support us in very invisible ways. Of course, we are in the spotlight and it is our responsibility to do so.
Speaking after his manager, Chelsea playmaker Kai Havertz said he would be prepared to cover his own travel costs if necessary. “There are more difficult things in the world right now than if we have to take the bus or the plane to an away game,” he added.
Such turmoil off the pitch has yet to impact Chelsea’s results on the pitch so far, with Havertz picking up a late winner to lead the Blues to a 1-0 win over Newcastle on Sunday. The German admitted, however, that he and his team-mates did not find it easy to stay focused.
“Everyone knows it’s not easy,” he told CBS Sports. “You always try to focus on the games. Such a situation has never happened at Chelsea before, it’s a bit strange of course. We are professionals and sometimes situations like this can happen.
“It’s not easy for all of us, especially for the whole club, the fans. The best we can do at the moment is to play good football, to try to put smiles on the faces of the fans in these kinds of situations. Everything is difficult for us at the moment but as we have seen over the weekend we can handle these situations and hopefully tomorrow too.”