Chester’s ‘future’ on the line in extraordinary Covid rules dispute, warns chairman

Non-League Chester fear going out of business if made to play behind closed doors in a dispute over their location on the England and Wales border.

The English National League North outfit have 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.

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.

There are presently 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.

Since those matches the club have 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: “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 location of the stadium straddles the border

(PA Graphics)

“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 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.

“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.”

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

Andy Morris, Chester FC chairman

Chester 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.

The club said in a statement this had been brought about “upon direction from the Welsh Government”.

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.

Morris said: “We are taking legal advice but for a fan-owned club to go to war against the Welsh Government and Welsh police would be using money raised by supporters to keep the club going during Covid. We are hoping common sense does prevail.”

A joint statement from North Wales Police and Flintshire County Council read: “Discussions around Chester FC’s recently-played home fixtures remain ongoing between North Wales Police and our partner agencies.

“North Wales Police and Cheshire Police, along with representatives from Flintshire County Council, are working together to review and investigate the matches played at Chester’s stadium on December 28 and January 2, following reports of Covid regulation breaches.

“Further meetings have been arranged between North Wales Police, Cheshire Police, Flintshire County Council and Chester FC officials to discuss the situation further and we will issue an update in due course.”

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