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Fans return to football in England as 4,000 attend FA Cup semi-final

England recorded its largest crowd at an event in over a year on Sunday as 4,000 fans gathered at Wembley Stadium to watch the FA Cup semi-final between Leicester City and Southampton.

The pilot event at the 90,000-capacity stadium was part of the UK government’s Events Research Programme (ERP), which is being used to provide scientific data and research into how small and large-scale events could be permitted in line with the government roadmap outlined in February.

The game, which saw Leicester City win 1-0, was watched by Wembley’s lowest ever recorded crowd with Brent residents and key workers being the only people able to apply for tickets.

Ticketholders were required to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test and they will be asked to take another in the coming days. Fans’ behaviour was also analysed using video cameras, and their journeys to and from the event were monitored.

Sunday’s match is one of three pilot events at Wembley aimed at phasing fans back into football. The capacity will increase to 8,000 for the Carabao Cup final between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City on April 25, and it is then hoped that up to 21,000 fans will be allowed at Wembley for the FA Cup final on May 15. Leicester will now face Champions League semi-finalists Chelsea in the final.

The pilot events will explore how different approaches to social distancing, ventilation and test-on-test entry protocols could ease opening and maximise participation.

The Snooker World Championships, which also kicked off in Sheffield on Saturday and will run to May 3, will also trial the return of fans, with up to 1,000 people a day to be permitted at the Crucible Theatre. Other entertainment events in Liverpool, as well as three 10km runs at Hatfield Park, also feature on the initial list of pilots.

It was announced late on Friday ahead of the game that attendees would not need to present COVID-19 passports at the first batch of test events in England. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) had suggested COVID-19 passports might be required for some events, but this is not the case.

Step 4 of the roadmap, which would come into effect no earlier than June 21, would see no legal limits on social contact and potentially pave the way for large-scale crowds at sporting events this summer.

Ministers will look at reports from each of the test events in May, and will decide the trajectory of the return of fans to sporting events in the UK this year.

Image: Nicholas Gemini / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Edited for size