Chester FC chairman says they have become a ‘political football’, confirms they took Flintshire Covid grant
The Chairman of Chester FC football club has said that they have become a “political football” over whether Welsh Covid restrictions should apply to their stadium, which has its stands and pitch in Wales.
Andy Morris however confirmed that they had accepted a Covid grant from Flintshire County Council in order to support the stadium’s bars.
But he said that because they were registered in England but much of the stadium was in Wales they were “getting the worst of both worlds”.
Speaking on Radio Wales, he was asked why they accepted a Covid business support grant from Flintshire Council. The presenter asked: “Some might say Andy that by accepting that money from Wales when it was offered, that’s where your argument falls down?”
Andy Morris replied: “Yes that was a UK national support for the hospitality sector, it was nothing to do from the footballing side of things. So because our bar areas are in Wales they are licensed by Flintshire Council, it is Flintshire who administrated that funding support.
“That’s why we went through Flintshire for that, because we couldn’t go through Cheshire, because of the alcohol license, because we operate a bar as many clubs do.”
He added that it was “not about what happens in the stadium, it’s about access to the stadium. If he [Mark Drakeford] ever does come to Chester’s ground, there is one road in and one road out, and it runs through Chester. That’s the only way to get in and out.”
He however expressed annoyance that while “a lot of people see this for what it is” a number of politicians were commenting on the issue of the club on social media and elsewhere without contacting them in order to ascertain the details.
“What I’ve found difficult is that I’ve seen a number of politicians commenting both negative and for the club both on social media and press releases,” he said.
“Nobody’s come and spoke to us. The only conversation we’ve had is two officers. One from Flintshire Constabulary and one from Flintshire Council. So I’m surprised that all these people seem able to give informed opinions, when actually we haven’t had any dialogue to see our position, where we stand, and how we can work collaboratively to resolve these issues.”
He added: “This isn’t about English or Welsh and if we’re classified as Welsh, that’s what we have to deal with,” he said. “What we don’t like is that we’re two years almost into this pandemic now – why is this being raised as an issue?
The dispute began after North Wales Police and Flintshire County Council said they were working to “investigate” the club to find out if matches played at its ground on 28 December and 2 January broke the Welsh Government’s coronavirus regulations.
The club’s Deva Stadium home is on the Sealand Road Industrial Estate and lies on the Welsh side of the border with England. This border runs along the back of the East Stand with the pitch and as well as four stands lying in Flintshire.
Under Welsh Covid restrictions professional sports have to be played behind closed doors. Chester FC has been given until 11 January to respond to North Wales Police about whether it intends to still allow fans in for the next home game on Saturday.
Earlier today the First Minister Mark Drakeford said that a “sensible, pragmatic solution” will be found to the dispute regarding whether Welsh Covid restrictions apply to Chester FC.
Speaking on Sky News, Mark Drakeford said: “I’ve already asked my senior officials to have discussions today with the club, with the police, with the local authority that owns the ground, the Chester local authority.
“I’m sure there is a sensible pragmatic solution here that doesn’t mean the club is placed in jeopardy and that doesn’t result in the law being broken either.”
Chester FC said they had previously followed English coronavirus rules and guidance until now and can’t understand why that has changed.
“I think it’s ridiculous. We seem to be played around maybe as a political football all of a sudden,” said Jeff Banks, director of fan engagement at Chester FC.
“I think common sense just has to be used here.
“The football club is registered as an English football club, we are an English football club, in an English city, playing under an England FA in an English county, however, the pitch is in Wales.”