Some 8,000 people – all tested for COVID-19 – were in the stadium to watch Manchester City beat Tottenham Hotspur.
It almost looked like the good old days at Wembley on Sunday as a crowd of 8,000 watched Manchester City defeat Tottenham Hotspur in the English Football League Cup final – the biggest turnout at a British sporting event since the start from the COVID-19 pandemic over a year ago.
As part of the UK government’s Event Research Program (ERP), the final was used as a pilot event to test the safe return of supporters.
And while each club’s 2,000 licensed fans, plus 4,000 local residents, seemed a bit lost in the vast expanses of the 90,000-seat stadium, the sound of their voices being heard was uplifting.
For more than a year, English stadiums have remained silent, except for a brief window at the end of last year when small crowds were allowed before a deadly COVID-19 resurgence.
It was a disheartening time for the game, with fans forced to watch at home from their couches with artificial crowd effects to create a sense of normalcy.
But the sound of fans singing their songs at Wembley offered hope for better times to come as the UK vaccine rollout continues to bring down deaths and infections from the virus.
City fans were stuck in one corner while Tottenham fans were on the other end. There were also 4,000 local residents and NHS workers at the game.
To enter Wembley, fans had to take a side-stream coronavirus test at a designated site within 24 hours of the match and produce proof of a negative result.
They also have to pass two home PCR tests – one before going to the game and another five days after.
“ A huge difference ”
As people gathered outside the stadium the mood was good, with some rival fans gathering to protest the European Super League now doomed.
City and Tottenham were two of six English clubs which announced their intention to join six Spanish and Italian giants to form the new league last week.
Once inside, the ancient rituals began after a poignant performance of the 92 NHS workers’ national anthem on giant video screens at Wembley.
As has been repeated regularly during this seismic week for the sport following the Super League fiasco, the game is nothing without fans.
Both sets were quickly back to the old groove.
The announcement of the respective starting lineups was booed by opposing supporters, as many strong words were hurled at opposing players and match officials once the flagship game got underway.
Aymeric Laporte’s header sealed City’s victory and their fans greeted the players in the corner after the trophy was handed over to captain Fernandinho – a wave of pent-up joy after the dark months of last year.
It was clear what the support meant for City players as they joined in singing the club’s anthem, Blue Moon.
City midfielder Riyad Mahrez summed up the mood.
“They made a huge difference, 8,000, it was amazing and we can’t wait to find them,” he said.
For Tottenham fans, however, it was another disappointment and the continuation of a trophic drought dating back to 2008.
Some 21,000 fans are expected in the FA Cup final next month, while Wembley hope to have at least 22,500 in the eight Euro 2020 games it will host this year.