Pragmatic solution could be found to Chester FC Covid rules dilemma – Drakeford

·2-min read
The club considers itself English with an English registered address (Mike Egerton/PA) (PA Archive)
The club considers itself English with an English registered address (Mike Egerton/PA) (PA Archive)

There are hopes “a sensible pragmatic solution” can be found over the dispute between an English football club and the Welsh authorities over fans attending matches, Wales’s First Minister has said.

Non-league Chester FC fear going out of business if the club is made to play behind closed doors.

The English National League North outfit has been warned they may have breached Welsh coronavirus regulations by hosting crowds at two matches over the holiday period.

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

Graphic showing the exact location of the Swansway Chester Stadium. (PA Graphics)
Graphic showing the exact location of the Swansway Chester Stadium. (PA Graphics)

Elite sporting events in Wales are currently being played behind closed doors after new rules to tackle the spread of the Omicron variant came into force on Boxing Day.

Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford said Welsh Government officials would be discussing the issue with the club, police and local authority.

“I’ve already asked my senior officials to have discussions today with the police, with the club, with the local authority that owns the ground, the Chester local authority,” he told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday.

“I’m sure there is a sensible pragmatic solution here but doesn’t mean that the club is placed in jeopardy, but doesn’t result in the law being broken either.”

There are no restrictions in England and Chester’s home matches against Fylde and Telford on December 28 and January 2 were attended by crowds of 2,075 and 2,116 respectively.

The main gates to the stadium are in England (Martin Rickett/PA) (PA Archive)
The main gates to the stadium are in England (Martin Rickett/PA) (PA Archive)

The club has since been informed by North Wales Police and Flintshire County Council they may have broken Welsh Government rules and they would be risking doing so again by hosting more crowds.

The club, who consider themselves English with an English registered address, are now fearing the potential consequences and are seeking legal advice.

Chairman Andy Morris told the PA news agency 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 pitch at the Swansway Chester Stadium lies in Wales (Mike Egerton/PA). (PA Archive)
The pitch at the Swansway Chester Stadium lies in Wales (Mike Egerton/PA). (PA Archive)

“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.”

The club learned of the issue after being invited to a meeting along with representatives of North Wales Police, Flintshire County Council, Cheshire Police and Cheshire West & Chester Council.

Chester, who next play at home when they host Brackley Town on January 15, are hoping the matter can be quickly resolved to avoid an expensive legal case.

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