Chelsea withdraw request to play FA Cup tie behind closed doors after widespread condemnation
Chelsea have withdrawn their request for the English FA to move their Cup quarter-final against Middlesbrough behind closed doors less than five hours after initially doing so.
After receiving universal condemnation for the request, made after it became clear they would not be able to sell tickets for the game, Chelsea bowed to pressure. Their match will now take place in front of a sold-out crowd at Riverside Stadium with only a handful of visiting supporters expected to be on the ground.
“After constructive discussions between the FA and Chelsea, the club have agreed to withdraw their request for the Emirates FA Cup quarter-final against Middlesbrough to be played behind closed doors,” an FA spokesperson said. “The FA remain in discussions with Chelsea, the Premier League and the government to find a solution that would allow both Chelsea supporters to attend matches and away supporters to attend Stamford Bridge, while ensuring compliance with penalties.”
Earlier today Chelsea, who now say they are “appreciative of the FA’s continued efforts to help us find a solution”, warned of the impact on the “sporting integrity” of the FA Cup if a match was to take place with a set. of supporters and without the other. Now they have been forced into a humiliating descent which could further damage their position in the eyes of the government at a time when they need political backing to ease the pressure and possibly facilitate the sale of the club.
Government sources were furious at Chelsea’s attempts to pressure their will on ticket sales just days after the start of the arrangement that has been put in place to allow them to operate while owner Roman Abramovich is under sanction. Downing Street was among those who questioned the club’s approach, saying it saw “no reason” why the request had been made. In private, politicians were altogether more critical.
The terms of the special license under which the Blues have been operating since Thursday, when Abramovich was sanctioned for his links with Vladimir Putin, did not allow them to sell additional tickets for home and away matches, but the dialogue is ongoing with the British. government to change that.
Chelsea’s request had been ignored across the football landscape and beyond with Steven Brine, Tory MP for Winchester, telling FA chief executive Mark Bullingham he should ‘tell Chelsea to put on their protective gear. shins and his boots and play the fucking game”. .”
Middlesbrough had been no less scathing, calling Chelsea’s suggestion “bizarre and without any merit”. Chris Wilder’s side beat Manchester United and Tottenham on their way to the last eight and will play to a full house. The number of visiting supporters on the pitch is expected to reach a few hundred.
In perhaps the most laconic section of an angry statement, the Championship club said: “Given the reasons for these sanctions, that Chelsea seek to invoke ‘sporting integrity’ as the reason for the match. is played behind closed doors is ironic in the extreme.”
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 how 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 organizations, 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 under the projectors 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 victory 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.”