FA Cup final sets UK pandemic attendance record

Around 21,000 fans were at Wembley Stadium for Saturday’s FA Cup final between Leicester City and Chelsea in what marked the largest attendance at a UK sporting event since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A second-half goal from Youri Tielemans earned Leicester its first-ever FA Cup win, with the match serving as the final test event for fan attendance ahead of the wider return of supporters in England from today (Monday).

Leicester and Chelsea were each given 6,250 tickets for the match, with local residents, key workers and FA guests also in attendance. Fans were required to return a negative COVID-19 test prior to the match.

Saturday’s match was the third event to go ahead at Wembley with fans in recent weeks, following the FA Cup semi-final between Leicester and Southampton, and the Carabao Cup final between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. The World Snooker Championships in Sheffield also served as a test event.

Fans were allowed back at some football venues earlier in the season as COVID-19 cases fell, but matches have been held behind closed doors since the start of the year after infection rates increased.

Saturday’s attendance landmark was reached as outdoor sports venues in England are free to welcome up to 10,000 fans from today as the country begins Step 3 of its roadmap out of lockdown.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last week that venues can reopen from today, meaning that the final two rounds of Premier League fixtures will go ahead with spectators. The English Football League (EFL) play-offs also begin today, with just over 2,000 fans to be in attendance for Bournemouth’s match against Brentford.

Other sports set to welcome the return of fans from today include horse racing, rugby union and rugby league.

In other news, the Scottish Cup final between Hibernian and St Johnstone at Hampden Park on Saturday will now take place behind closed doors after the easing of restrictions in Glasgow was delayed by at least a week.

Last week, the Scottish Football Association was granted approval by UEFA to have fans in attendance for the match. It had previously been announced that there would be no fans at Hampden Park as the venue will have already been handed over to UEFA for Glasgow’s staging of Euro 2020 games, but approval was then granted for a maximum of 500 spectators to attend.

However, the match will go ahead without fans after all, with the Scottish Government announcing on Friday that Glasgow will remain in Level 3 of its lockdown tier due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Hampden Park is set to open at 25% capacity for its four Euro 2020 games, which will mean that around 12,000 fans will be in attendance.

Image: Wembley