Chelsea Football Club have removed their request to have their FA Cup quarter-final at Middlesbrough played behind closed doors after constructive talks with the FA.
The Premier League side made the petition in the belief that playing the game in an empty stadium is the only way to maintain “sporting integrity”.
This follows UK Government sanctions imposed on Roman Abramovich last week over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, stopping the club from selling any more tickets for Saturday evening’s fixture.
But there was a furious backlash, including from Boro, who hit back with a strongly-worded statement which ultimately led to the Blues making a U-turn.
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The FA confirmed: “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.
The FA has issued the following statement. We are grateful for the FA’s continuing efforts to help us find a solution. https://t.co/fm1uYfSLNz
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) March 15, 2022
“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, whilst ensuring sanctions are respected.”
Chelsea tweeted: “The FA has issued the following statement. We are grateful for the FA’s continuing efforts to help us find a solution.”
As it stands, only season-ticket holders will be able to attend games at Stamford Bridge from now until the end of the season with away sides’ supporters also barred.
In the meantime, the day’s events are likely to add spice to Saturday night’s cup tie as Chris Wilder’s side look to knock out a third big six side after already seeing off Manchester United and Tottenham.
Middlesbrough and chairman Steve Gibson were furious after not being told about Chelsea’s request until the statement was published on the Blues’ official club website.
After they called the claims “ironic” and “without any foundation” on their website, the long-time Boro owner labelled Chelsea a “rotten” football club and called for chairman Bruce Buck to be kicked out of football.
Gibson 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.
“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.”
Gibson added: “We haven’t made our feelings known to the FA or Chelsea yet, because Chelsea haven’t contacted me.
“They haven’t had the courtesy of telling me this was going to happen, they just took it to the FA. The game is this weekend!
“Those sanctions were placed upon Chelsea were done so by the Government, not by football, not by Middlesbrough.
“It’s got to be kicked out and it’s abhorrent. This rotten football club, Chelsea. We pick up the newspapers and read about Abramovich and the way he conducted his life, and we see what’s going on in Ukraine, and it’s beyond comprehension. It is.”
Around 500 Chelsea fans will be at the quarter-final having bought their tickets before the sanctions were announced last Thursday, some way short of the full 4500 allocations.
Tuchel: Boro travel not easy
The news came shortly after Blues boss Thomas Tuchel admitted that their travel plans for the trip to Riverside had been affected by the sanctions.
The world and European champions are only able to spend £20,000 per game, meaning they are unable to make the trip via plane and have had to cut down on travelling staff.
Arrangements had already been sorted for their trip to Lille for the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie tomorrow night.
Tuchel said: “There are restrictions and we have to deal with them. There are adjustments in the amount of staff, who is travelling, how many rooms we have in hotels and how we arrive at matches.
“It isn’t about luxury and bling-bling. This is just a professional 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. For that, it is better to arrive by plane rather than a bus.
“We try to do it. From my understanding, we have a framework to go and play in Lille with absolutely no excuses.
“Regarding these organisations, it is already more difficult to arrange things on a professional level, in the best way possible, for the FA Cup. But we will deal with it.
“As long as we have shirts and 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 a very invisible way. Of course, we are in the spotlight and it is our responsibility to do so. We will do it.”