Middlesbrough have responded to Chelsea’s request for their FA Cup quarter-final tie to be played behind closed doors on Saturday. The Blues, whose owner Roman Abramovich has recently been sanctioned by the UK government, were unable to sell out the away section of the Riverside Stadium.
A statement from Chelsea on Tuesday afternoon read: “We are disappointed to announce we will not be able to sell tickets for Saturday’s FA Cup tie at Middlesbrough. 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.
“Executives at Middlesbrough had been kind enough to extend their deadline for ticket sales and stadium allocation from 7.30pm last night until 9.30am this morning. 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.
“Chelsea FC recognises 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 licence was imposed, but we believe this is the fairest way of proceeding in the current circumstances.
“We will continue to discuss the issue of ticket sales with OFSI as there are a number of fixtures still to be played this season and we hope to reach a resolution.”
Boro released a statement on their club’s website, reading: “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.
“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.”
Boro chairman, Steve Gibson, via Simon Jordan of talkSPORT, responded swiftly to this statement and called out Chelsea talking about “sporting integrity”. Jordan said: “I’ve just spoken to Steve and his expression was that ‘sporting integrity and Chelsea are words that don’t go together’, that is his reaction.
“It makes no sense why Chelsea would want to do this. They’ve got a playing squad that is worth about £1billion and Middlesbrough have got a team that’s worth a packet of gobstoppers by comparison, so the sporting integrity can even up there.”
The FA have also issued a swift response to Chelsea’s somewhat controversial statement. Via @FASpokesperson on Twitter: “We are aware of Chelsea FC’s request to play their Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final tie against Middlesbrough FC behind closed doors.
“The matter will be discussed at the Professional Game Board meeting tomorrow.”