Chester MP calls on North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner to help “sensibly resolve” Deva Stadium boundary dispute
Chester MP Chris Matheson has called on the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales to help try and resolve a border dispute involving Chester FC’s Deva Stadium.
The club has been warned by police over possible breaches of Welsh of Covid rules because a large part of its ground is in Wales.
The National League North club was summoned to a meeting with North Wales Police and Flintshire County Council – who it pays rates to – on Friday, following two fixtures over the festive period which saw over 2,000 fans attended each time.
There are no limits on crowds at events in England, but Covid restrictions brought in over the border on Boxing Day mean a maximum of 50 people, plus players, can attend a sporting event in Wales.
Chester FC’s Deva Stadium on Bumpers Lane lies within Wales apart from the club offices and front car park which sit within England.
The possible breaches occurred on 28 December 2021 when 2,075 fans attended the Deva Stadium to watch Chester draw 2-2 with AFC Fylde and 2 January 2022 when 2,116 fans watched Chester draw 1-1 with AFC Telford.
The club was presented with a letter on Thursday on behalf of North Wales Police and Flintshire County Council which outlined the potential contravention of Welsh Covid regulations.
“This has caused a backlash on the English side about whether the club should follow English or Welsh coronavirus regulations as its ground, despite having a Chester postal address, straddles the Welsh and English border.” Chris Matheson said.
The Chester MP held a number of meetings on Friday with Chester FC and also approached the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales “to try and sensibly resolve the issue through common sense.”
He said: “When I first heard the news, I assumed it must be a joke fronted by an aggrieved Wrexham fan but clearly it is deadly serious.
“It has always been an amusing quirk of our club that the ground on Bumpers Lane straddles the border.”
“If the authorities expect us to follow two sets of rules, then I’m sure 2,000 Chester fans can congregate on the car park which is in England and follow the match on a big screen while play takes place on the pitch, part of which is in Wales. That’s how absurd the situation is.”
Chris Matheson said: “The club has a central Chester postal address, and the offices of the club are in England.”
“The Club is affiliated with Cheshire FA. The only access to the club is via the English side and games have always been policed by Cheshire Police.”
“I’m absolutely in favour of respecting rules to manage the coronavirus pandemic but the club has been doing just that.”
He said: They have been and continue to follow the English rules as I know myself from attending a game over Christmas. It’s not as though we have been ignoring the coronavirus restrictions.”
“The team is playing with a new confidence; we’ve got a great new manager and assistant in Steve Watson and Steve McNulty.
“The recent games have been entertaining and following a tough couple of years due to the pandemic, we need more people at the Deva Stadium not fewer.”
“They have to follow the rules and they have been following the rules. From face coverings to restricted numbers in the bar, the club have taken all necessary measures to keep everyone safe.”
“I’ll be supporting the club board to find a common-sense resolution to this mess because we need people to understand and buy into these necessary restrictions.”
“I’m worried that this dispute will have the opposite effect and make people less compliant.” The MP said.
Speaking to Capital North West, the club Vice Chairman Jim Green said: “It’s a very strange situation and it doesn’t feel like common sense has been applied at the moment.”
“Obviously we have been aware for 30 years that our club spans the border, and it’s in a unique geographical position that has various quirks attached to it.”
Jim Green said: “From our perspective, we’re an English football club based in English city and playing an English League and we would expect the English law would apply to us.”
“We were aware of what the regulations are in Wales and what the regulations are in England and I think if we go back to December 2020, we played two games with fans inside the stadium and in line with English restrictions at that time.
Back then Wales was still in lockdown and Welsh clubs were playing behind closed doors, so for us, there was a precedent set there.” He said.
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been really aware of what the club needs to comply and adhere to with [regards to] guidance and legislation and that’s what we’ve done.”
He said: “It’s always been with the English legislation because we are intrinsically an English Football Club.”
“We were asked to attend the meeting on Thursday, we were given that invite and the meeting was on Friday morning, we went into that meeting expecting it to be considered a discussion to try and find a way forward.”
Jim Green said: “What we were presented with is a letter on behalf of North Wales Police and Flintshire County Council warning was in their eyes we’d breached Coronavirus regulations in Wales and if we continue to play there could be further breaches.”
“Obviously that’s quite scary for us as a club because in our eyes we’ve done nothing wrong.”
“I think all parties need to take a step back, reflect and take some more legal advice, It’s a really complex issue.”
“There’s lots of historical and anecdotal evidence that needs to be reviewed and I think also the implications of this decision and any outcome are really significant.”
He said: “There’s a there’s a big implication for us as a football club in the short term because it’s not viable for us to play without fans the stadium, there is also bigger, wider implications around the border between England and Wales and how law is applied on each side of that border.”
“It’s going to need some sort of cool hats, common sense thinking, and hopefully we can find a way forward.”
A Welsh government spokesperson said: “Chester City Football Club’s stadium is in Wales therefore Welsh regulations apply.”
The Deva Stadium border issue made the headlines earlier in the pandemic when Chester’s Storyhouse said their Halloween Drive-in cinema would have to be cancelled as the toilets for the event were on the Welsh side.
Wales at a time when there was a ‘firebreak’ lockdown and there were restrictions with people crossing the border into and out of Wales.
Temporary toilets were brought in and situated on the English side of the border.