The Mail on Sunday


Spectators return today for Cup semi-final but supporters insist they have been ignored

- By Rob Draper and James Sharpe

SPECTATORS are back for football today for the first time for four months with 4,000 attending today’s Wembley FA Cup semi-final between Leicester and Southampto­n, the biggest gathering in football since the country locked down in March last year.

But despite the relief and the prospect of 8,000 fans at the Carabao Cup final at Wembley next weekend between Manchester City and Tottenham, football fans say they have been ignored and sidelined as the Government’s Events Research Programme plans the return of significan­t crowds, with 20,000 expected to attend next month’s FA Cup final.

The last time fans watched football in England was on December 29 last year when Plymouth lost 3-2 at home against Oxford in the brief period when restrictio­ns eased in certain areas and crowds of 2,000 were allowed. The last unrestrict­ed Premier League crowd was on March 9 , 2 0 2 0 , when 3 2 , 1 2 9 attended Leicester City’s 4-0 win over Aston Villa.

Today’s semi-final is a test event only open to residents in the

Wembley area and local NHS staff, care workers and teachers. At next weekend’s Carabao Cup final, only half the 8,000 tickets will go to fans of the respective clubs, with Brent residents and local key workers being offered the rest.

‘Everyone keeps saying fans are back,’ said Matt Davis, vice-chairman of Leicester City supporters’ group, Foxes Trust. ‘I wish people wouldn’t use that terminolog­y. They’re not. It’s not the first game with fans, it’s the first game with invited attendees. It’ll be extremely lucky if any people in the area are Leicester or Southampto­n fans.

‘It is great to do a test case as they need proof it works but it would have been good if they could have picked a game that wasn’t as massive as an FA Cup semi-final.

‘Our wish now is that common sense is shown for the final and tickets evenly distribute­d between supporters. The FA Cup final is such a massive thing, especially for teams like us and Southampto­n.

Whichever of us gets through it just seems so wrong that after everything there could be so few supporters if t i ckets go t hrough sponsors and affiliated parties.

‘We want to engage fans of all clubs to lobby the FA, the Premier League, the Government, sponsors and affiliated groups for a common-sense approach. It is exactly the same if we get there or Southampto­n get there.’

Tottenham play in next weekend’s Carabao Cup final and Kat Law, secretary of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust, said: ‘This could have been a really good news story and it isn’t now, as there’s too many people who have been shut out and disappoint­ed. Fans are sick of being called the lifeblood of the game and then the authoritie­s don’t even speak to us.

‘It isn’t the return of fans but of spectators. We all appreciate the need to have some pilot event so we’ re all back in August. But nobody consulted with us or with the national fans’ organisati­on. We [Spurs] played at Wembley for 18 months so we have a really good understand­ing of the match-day operations there and we think we could have added something

‘We would have preferred it if all 8,000 were football fans. If the DCMS [ Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport], the EFL and Brent Council had involved us in those discussion­s, all of whom are guilty on this one, we’d have been able to get a solution whereby

that was possible. And surely that would have been best for all of them?’

Spectators at test events will have to provide proof of a negative lateral flow test for Covid-19 within the past 24 hours and no cli nically vulnerable people, under 18s or pregnant women are permitted to attend. Fans will be asked to voluntaril­y wear trackers so that researcher­s can study behavioura­l patterns in the stadium and assess risk. For the Carabao Cup final, travel for City fans coming from Manchester is limited to a supporters’ coach or chartered train, with only 250 allowed to travel by car. 1,750 City tickets will be available to fans in the north west and 250 for fans in London and the Home Counties.

The Premier League is planning to have the last two rounds of games after May 17, when restrictio­ns ease again, allowing every team to have a home match with 10,000 fans.

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