Chelsea have retracted their request to play their FA Cup quarter-final tie at Middlesbrough behind closed doors following a significant backlash.
Sanctions imposed on the club’s owner Roman Abramovich mean Chelsea cannot sell additional away tickets for the trip to the Riverside on Saturday, with the oligarch unable to earn money in the UK under the measures.
Before the licence placing restrictions on the club came into effect last week, the west Londoners had sold 500-600 tickets of their 4,620 allocation.
In a controversial statement on Tuesday, the Blues revealed that they had therefore requested the clash with Boro be played behind closed doors “for matters of sporting integrity”.
“We are disappointed to announce we will not be able to sell tickets for Saturday’s FA Cup tie at Middlesbrough,” it read.
“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.
“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.”
The statement has drawn the ire of Middlesbrough and their chairman Steve Gibson, who labelled Chelsea ‘a rotten football club’ and said: “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.”
However, later on Tuesday the FA revealed that Chelsea had subsequently withdrawn their request.
“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,” a statement read.
“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.”
According to the BBC, Chelsea never expected the fixture to be postponed and still intend to play. Rather, they wanted to provoke a reaction from the government amid concerns over the amount of money being lost through blocked ticket sales.