Chester FC’s ground is partly in England, partly in Wales. With different Covid rules in the two countries that’s turning into a real headache.
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Today… Chester’s Welsh problem.
“You’re Welsh…and you know you are…”
That’s the all-too predictable teasing chant from away fans when they visit English National League North side Chester.
And although the Chester fans are surely really bored of the joke by now, there is a reason why Chester has been on the receiving end of it.
It’s because Chester, the city, is in England. But the football club’s Deva Stadium straddles the border with Wales. In fact, the dividing line runs right through it. The pitch, and all four stands are in Flintshire, Wales.
But now, it’s not just that the joke isn’t funny. There’s actually something very serious going on.
Because of differences in Covid rules for England and Wales, the Welsh police are now investigating the club.
Chester allowed over 2,000 fans in the stadium for games against Fylde and Telford United over the Christmas period.
“Stevenson on the right-hand side this time, gets the ball…fires the ball into the penalty area, comes to the feet of George Glendon…turns onto his right FOOT! And George Glendon fires one in! The opening goal of the afternoon! George Glendon looked like he’d turned into a blind alley but he turned it onto his right foot and he smashes it beyond Bobby Jones and it’s Chester one, Fylde nil.”Chester FC
But Welsh Covid rules changed on Boxing Day – so all outdoor sporting events had to be played behind closed doors.
It made the news in Australia, although the presenter was a little bit confused between Chester and Chelsea…
“English club Chester fears it could go out of business after being warned it breached Welsh Covid restrictions. In Wales, sporting events must be played behind closed doors, so where does it leave Chels…or Chester FC…whose stadium is quite literally split in two by the border.”Sky News Australia
Chester’s Chairman Andy Morris insists they are an English club. But North Wales and Flintshire County Council disagree.
So who’s right?
“The football club is registered as an English football club. We are an English football club in an English city, playing under an English FA in an English county…”Sky News Australia
The ticket office stands in England, and on matchday, the policing is provided by Cheshire Constabulary.
Sounds pretty straightforward?
It should be. But just like in the rest of society, Covid has complicated matters.
The Chester fans naturally don’t agree with any argument put forward by North Wales police.
“Yeah. It’s ridiculous really. I suppose really if they’re going to enforce the Welsh rules, we should get the compensation as well… really. Because the club can’t afford it, it really can’t.”
“You can’t get into the stadium from Wales. You have to come through England to get into the stadium. So it’s totally…it’s a load of codswallop.”Sky News Australia
But when it emerged that Chester had accepted a Business Support Grant worth 25 thousand pounds from Flintshire Council, the waters just seemed to be that little bit more muddy.
Andy Morris defended that decision. He said the grant – which was claimed for the supporters’ bar area – was part of the UK’s wider support for the hospitality industry.
He insists that the club were forced to go to Flintshire Council to claim the money. They were the ones responsible for giving out the grants, given that the bar itself is located in Wales.
Talks held this week between the Welsh government, both Flintshire and Chester Councils and Chester FC have come up short of finding a resolution.
Meanwhile Chester have postponed this weekend’s home game versus Brackley Town while they seek further legal advice.
The problem for them, as a small club, is that no crowds equals… no revenue. And they rely on that income to survive.
Chester’s Fan Engagement officer says that the issue has turned into a “political football.”
And with so many different agencies involved, there’s no way of knowing how long this row will drag on for.
They key question is..if by accepting the Covid grant from Flintshire Council, have Chester opened the door to being forced to stick to the Welsh rules?
Can they have their cake and eat it too?
Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Imy Harper.