Explaining Middlesbrough vs Chelsea FA Cup quarterfinal ticket fiasco after Blues request to play with no fans

Explaining Middlesbrough vs Chelsea FA Cup quarterfinal ticket fiasco after Blues request to play with no fans

Chelsea on March 15 submitted a formal request to the English Football Association that its FA Cup quarterfinal match against Middlesbrough at Riverside Stadium be played behind closed doors, only to retract the request hours later after intense public backlash.

The Premier League giants initially made the argument that their inability to sell their allotment of away tickets to their fans due to recently imposed government sanctions should lead to the match being played behind closed doors “for matters of sporting integrity” as the “fairest way of proceeding in the current circumstance.”

The request, however, was not well received on social media by fans and media, with many criticizing Chelsea for showing poor sportsmanship themselves for reaching desperately by merely making the unusual request. For a squad with a market value of nearly $1 billion (per Transfermarkt), it was seen as a petty move.

The sanctions handed down by the UK government were aimed at owner and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich for his ties to the Russian regime, led by president Vladimir Putin, which has invaded Ukraine.

The club is currently operating under a special UK sporting license which permits it to play matches, but not to generate revenue, like selling tickets or merchandise, as long as the club is owned by Abramovich, who is in the midst of trying to sell the club.

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Why did Chelsea request the match be played behind closed doors?

As part of the UK government sanctions against Abramovich, the Blues are unable to generate income: They cannot sell merchandise or offer other matchday amenities, and most notably, they cannot sell new tickets to supporters.

Only those tickets purchased before the sanctions — such as season tickets — will be honored by the club, as Chelsea cannot sell additional tickets.

Chelsea have been in talks with UK government officials in an attempt to have the terms of their football license tweaked, including how tickets are handled for club supporters.

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With no progress made on that front, the frustration has grown among Blues supporters and the club assumed the position that the sporting integrity of their upcoming FA Cup quarterfinal had been compromised since Chelsea fans were not able to support the club at the match.

Chelsea indicated in its statement that Middlesbrough had extended the deadline for settling the away fan ticket allocation, but since a deal was not struck with the UK government in time, those away tickets could not be sold by the club to its supporters.

“It is important for the competition that the match against Middlesbrough goes ahead,” Chelsea said in its statement. “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 recognizes 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 license was imposed, but we believe this is the fairest way of proceeding in the current circumstances.”

English FA, UK government reaction

Before Chelsea retracted the request, all indications were that the English FA was not about to grant it.

The FA released a statement acknowledging the request and confirmed it would meet to discuss the matter further. That was a few hours before Chelsea withdrew the petition.

Amid the maelstrom, reporting seems to indicate that the government has grown exhausted by the constant noise from the Blues, seemingly indicating they have already gone above and beyond to allow Chelsea the ability to operate without freezing the club completely, like it has with other Abramovich assets.

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Middlesbrough response to Chelsea request

Middlesbrough was also unhappy with Chelsea’s request, taking issue with the Blues’ position. The club called Chelsea’s statement “bizarre and without any merit whatsoever.”

The Championship side even went so far as to imply that Chelsea has been acting with the disinterest of sporting integrity over the past decade under Abramovich’s ownership.

The Middlesbrough chairman also had harsh words for the Blues’ request.

Chelsea withdraw request

Just hours after the initial statement, due to the incredible backlash to the initial request, Chelsea formally withdrew its request to have the match played behind closed doors.

The withdrawal came less than five hours after publicizing the initial request. The FA also confirmed the withdrawal.

It was reported that Chelsea never believed the request would be granted, and that the move was instead intended to put additional pressure on the UK government to eventually relax the sanctions.

What happened to the tickets for the FA Cup quarterfinal?

Chelsea ultimately returned the allotment of 3,200 tickets to Middlesbrough, and Boro in turn made them available to their club supporters.

But in the lead-up to the match the club also announced that it would be donating its entire share of ticket receipts from the match to humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.

On behalf of the people of Middlesbrough and Teesside, Middlesbrough Football Club will donate its share of the gate receipts from the Emirates FA Cup sixth round tie against Chelsea to humanitarian aid in Ukraine.

There are sure to be Chelsea fans in the crowd with one report estimating 300 to be present.

Scathing reaction to Chelsea request

Fans and media alike ripped Chelsea for the request.

Many on social media were outraged that Chelsea would wish to bring other clubs down with it, and believed that Chelsea lacked perspective and self-awareness as an organization.

While Blues supporters are also paying the consequences of the sanctions, the government action is meant to punish Abramovich, a Russian oligarch tied directly and indirectly to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Chelsea’s painting itself as the victim has been received negatively by non-Chelsea fans and observers, but also a former Chelsea player and current media personality:

Many of the critics point out how the club has benefited from 20 years of spending by Abramovich, whose wealth and the way it was built has come under intense scrutiny of governments around the world. Those same governments have also implicated Abramovich in assisting the current Russian regime, the actions of which have led to war and a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. 

Even the UK government reportedly reacted negatively to the request, echoing the sentiment of many that Chelsea is attempting to bring down others with it, hoping for all fans be left to the curb rather than just its own.

One group which unsurprisingly backed the Blues to start is the Chelsea Supporter Trust, which continued to pressure the UK government to relax the sanctions. However, it then asked the club to withdraw the request.