Chester National League match this weekend postponed as they fight Welsh Covid-19 breach

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Chester’s home fixture with Brackley Town on Saturday has been postponed as the National League North club searches for a resolution to their apparent breach of Welsh Covid-19 rules.

The non-league club’s chairman Andy Morris warned last week they could go out of business if forced to play matches behind closed doors in the coming weeks.

Chester’s Swansway Stadium straddles the English-Welsh border with the front gates, car park, ticket office and main office door in England but the pitch in Wales.

Chester have fallen foul of Welsh Covid regulations by hosting crowds at their stadium which straddles the border between Wales and England

Chester have fallen foul of Welsh Covid regulations by hosting crowds at their stadium which straddles the border between Wales and England 

The club has postponed this Saturday's National League North match against Brackley Town

The club has postponed this Saturday’s National League North match against Brackley Town

Sporting events in Wales are currently restricted to just 50 spectators under Covid regulations but Chester hosted crowds of 2,075 and 2,116 for their league fixtures against AFC Fylde and AFC Telford United on December 28 and January 2 respectively.

No such restrictions exist in England but the club was informed by North Wales Police and Flintshire County Council they may have broken Welsh Government rules by admitting crowds above 50.

Chester have agreed with Brackley and the National League to postpone this weekend’s home fixture – and a midweek under-19 fixture there – as they seek a ‘definitive resolution’ to the issue.

It came as Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her country’s limit of 500 at sporting events will be lifted from Monday, allowing larger crowds to return to football games.  

Sporting events in Wales are presently being staged behind closed doors but Chester hosted two crowds of over 2,000 during the festive period

Sporting events in Wales are presently being staged behind closed doors but Chester hosted two crowds of over 2,000 during the festive period 

A Chester club statement read: ‘We have met with Welsh Government, Flintshire Council and Cheshire West & Chester Council, however do not yet feel that this matter has reached a definitive resolution and will be obtaining further legal advice.

‘Whilst enforcement action remains a possibility, we are not prepared to risk the security of the Club or our supporters, as such the Board have made the difficult decision to postpone this week’s home fixtures.

‘Open, constructive discussions are continuing with a shared commitment to identifying a long-term solution that recognises the unique geography and historical context of the Deva Stadium site.

The ticket office at the Swansway Stadium is in England but the pitch is located in Wales

The ticket office at the Swansway Stadium is in England but the pitch is located in Wales

‘The Board will be seeking advice in respect of the potential breaches of the Welsh Coronavirus Regulations, which legislation will be applicable to the Club in the future and to establish any implications the Welsh Government’s proposed offer of financial support may have as an English football club.

‘We are a supporter-owned, community football club and the events of recent days have been especially challenging, therefore we are extremely grateful to our fans for their unwavering support.

Chester, who play in the sixth-tier National League North, are seeking legal advice and fear for their financial future if their games are forced behind closed doors

Chester, who play in the sixth-tier National League North, are seeking legal advice and fear for their financial future if their games are forced behind closed doors

‘The Board also wishes to place on record our thanks to the National League, Brackley Town and FC Halifax Town for their understanding and cooperation.

‘We will provide further updates as work to achieve a satisfactory outcome for all parties progresses.’

The club, who consider themselves English and have an English registered address, fear the financial implications of playing behind closed doors.

Their next home fixture now is against Southport on February 6. 

Chester chairman Morris said last week: ‘As a club we rely on gate receipts. If the enforcement is we have to play behind closed doors, we are not a Welsh club so we are not entitled to the financial support.

‘The entire future of the club could be in doubt. There is no financial support for English clubs playing behind closed doors at the moment. It could be the end of the club.

The city of Chester is in England but the football club's stadium straddles the Welsh border

The city of Chester is in England but the football club’s stadium straddles the Welsh border

‘The fact the stadium is on the border has been a quiz question for generations but, sadly, it’s a quiz question that has become a point of law rather than a novelty fact.

‘There is a bit of disbelief really that the Welsh governance is trying to impose something that is not technically clear.

‘I don’t think there is any clear jurisdiction in terms of which rules apply but we have been acting within English legislation since the stadium was built in 1992.

‘While acknowledging the border runs through the stadium, the club, for 30 years, has been treated as English with the registered address in England.

‘On a matchday, the policing around the stadium has always been Cheshire Police. Our safety certificate, fire, ambulance have always been handled by Cheshire.

Sporting events in Wales, such as those at Swansea's Liberty Stadium (pictured), must be played behind closed doors under current Covid rules in the country

Sporting events in Wales, such as those at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium (pictured), must be played behind closed doors under current Covid rules in the country

‘The entry to the car park and the main entrance to the stadium is in England. We are affiliated to the English FA and throughout Covid the main grants and supports we have accessed have been through the English system.

‘It is amazing that, all of a sudden, we have found out we are Welsh.’

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