Chelsea have been forced into an extraordinary climbdown just hours after finding themselves embroiled in a row with Middlesbrough and the Government as the chaos at Stamford Bridge hit new depths.
In what was universally viewed as a massive own goal, the Blues released a statement early on Tuesday afternoon revealing they had requested to the Football Association that this weekend’s FA Cup quarter final clash at the Riverside be played behind closed doors ‘for matters of sporting integrity’ after they were refused the opportunity to sell away tickets for the match by Whitehall officials.
But following a major backlash against the request, the Blues withdrew their application with the governing body.
Following owner Roman Abramovich’s sanctioning by the Government last week, Chelsea have been operating to strict constraints, one of which is a restriction on ticket sales.
The west London club, who are scheduled to face Lille in the Champions League on Wednesday, have been in talks with the Government in an attempt to amend the licence they are currently operating under following Abramovich’s sanctioning in hope they could sell tickets for the cup clash.
But their attempts have failed, a decision that led them to request Saturday’s tie be played in front of no fans.
Chelsea have announced they cannot sell tickets for their FA Cup tie against Middlesbrough
However, just hours later the FA confirmed Chelsea had backtracked, saying: ‘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.’
Chelsea’s original application was met with widespread condemnation yesterday – even their own fans criticising the move.
The Blues are frustrated at a lack of communication from the Government having convinced Middlesbrough to extend the deadline for a decision to be made on ticketing until 9.30am on Tuesday morning.
Chelsea had also asked the Government whether they would be able to distribute free tickets for for games, but as of yesterday the club were still awaiting clarity on that matter.
The Blues have been left in limbo after owner Roman Abramovich’s assets were frozen
They are now unable to sell new match tickets while Abramovich remains owner of the club
Chelsea are now calling for Saturday’s clash with Boro to be played behind closed doors
A quick and successful sale of the club will go someway to easing Chelsea’s current financial concerns, but in the interim they are stressing to the Government that they need the income from ticket sales.
Nevertheless, Government officials were said to be furious at Chelsea’s statement, with sources claiming the club had seriously misread public mood.
Similarly, Middlesbrough released a scathing statement shortly after Chelsea’s initial announcement that read: ‘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.
Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson (right) lashed out at Chelsea’s request
‘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.’
Speaking to the Telegraph, Boro chairman Steve Gibson continued the attack, saying: ‘The words “sporting integrity” and “Chelsea” don’t belong in the same sentence. For 19 years, money has fuelled the success of Chelsea Football Club.
‘Our fans, our club, our players and our manager have done nothing wrong. If Chelsea were to succeed, and the game be played behind closed doors, does that mean all the Premier League games have to be played behind closed doors? And all the Champions League games? And for what reason? Because of their owner, all the rest of us have to suffer.
‘This has to be kicked out and [Chelsea chairman] Bruce Buck should be kicked out.’
Middlesbrough have already sold out their full allocation for this weekend’s cup tie
But Chelsea believed it should be played behind closed doors due to ‘sporting integrity’
Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel fears they cannot afford to fly to Middlesbrough for Saturday’s clash, and instead will have to take 10-hour, 536-mile round-trip, coach journey.
Among the restriction placed on the club includes a £20,000 spend on travel costs for away matches.
‘It is difficult to arrange things in the best way possible for the FA Cup, but we will deal with it,’ said Tuchel.
‘It isn’t about luxury and bling-bling. This is just a pro level of sports, where we play with two days between matches with our opponent having four days between matches and we arrive with the possibilities of injuries.
The Blues will have to travel to North Yorkshire via a 10-hour round-trip coach journey
Thomas Tuchel insists he and his players are prepared to do whatever is necessary
‘For that, it is better to arrive with a plane rather than a bus.’
Speaking about the travel issues, Kai Havertz said he would happily pay out of his own pocket to travel to Middlesbrough and future games.
‘I would pay, no problem. That’s not a big deal for us,’ he said.
‘To come to the games is the most important. There are harder moments in the world, than [worry about] taking the plane or bus to away games.’