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Fans & Government Join Middlesbrough In Condemning Chelsea FC's FA Cup PR Own Goal

A senior government source has added weight to the backlash facing Chelsea FC following the club's bold attempt to get its restrictions loosened.

Chelsea are currently operating under a special license.

It was granted by the UK government to allow the club to continue playing its matches after owner Roman Abramovich had his assets seized and was placed under sanctions.

The government moved to sanction Abramovich as part of its action to target individuals understood to be close to Russian president Vladimir Putin, who ordered his army to invade Ukraine last month.

One of the restrictions facing Chelsea is that the club cannot sell tickets or merchandize until further notice, meaning only fans who had purchased tickets prior to Abramovich's sanctioning are able to attend games.

As a result, Chelsea will only have around 500 to 600 fans at Middlesbrough for Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final, despite an original allocation in excess of 4,000.

Chelsea had been in dialogue with the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation in an attempt to allow more Blues fans to buy tickets to Middlesbrough.

But after failing to strike a deal, Chelsea published a statement on Tuesday in which they called on the FA to level the playing field by not allowing ANY fans attend Saturday's game.

A general view of a Chelsea-branded corner flag at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea Football Club asked the FA to stop all supporters from attending Saturday's away game at Middlesbrough in the name of "sporting integrity"

The statement in full 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 license 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 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.

"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."

Chelsea's tone-deaf statement looks like being a PR own goal. It was slammed by fans on Twitter, while Middlesbrough also responded strongly.

READ MORE: "Ironic In The Extreme" - Middlesbrough Slam Chelsea Request To Play FA Cup Game Without Fans

Meanwhile, political journalist Alex Wickham quoted a senior government source, who claimed that Chelsea "do not seem to understand the seriousness of the situation they are in".

The quote in full read: "We are working around the clock to enable Chelsea to continue operating as a club in the interest of the fans. This statement is threatening Middlesbrough and the rest of the Football League.

"[It] shows they do not seem to understand the seriousness of the situation they are in, being owned by an entity that has been sanctioned because of links to a person responsible for appalling acts in Ukraine.

"We are not opposed to Chelsea having fans at games in the long run, but we will not allow money from ticket sales to flow to a sanctioned entity. Chelsea should spend less time worrying about having a few thousands fans at one game, and focus on moving their club into the hands of someone who isn't linked to a warmonger."

Prior to being sanctioned, Abramovich had put Chelsea up for sale earlier this month.

In the statement Abramovich made when he outlined his intention to sell the club, the 55-year-old had vowed to pass on "all net proceeds" from the sale to a new charitable foundation to help "all victims of the war in Ukraine".

He also said he would not be "not be asking for any loans to be repaid".

Abramovich had been hoping to sell Chelsea FC for around £3 billion - around double the amount he has lent to the club since 2003.

The government are said to be willing to allow Chelsea to be sold, but only if they can be assured that Abramovich will not receive any money from the deal.