Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final saw nearly 8,000 fans return to Wembley Stadium – the largest UK gathering of supporters since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur each welcomed 2,000 of their supporters, along with 4,000 tickets allocated to NHS staff and local residents – doubling the attendance of the FA Cup Semi-Finals earlier this month.
Although 7,773 fans is a mere fraction of Wembley’s full 90,000 capacity, the return of fans was a breath of fresh air amidst a vitriolic period for football.
PRE-MATCH TESTING & SUNSHINE DRINKING
Admission into Wembley was dependent on the attendee displaying a negative lateral flow test that had been taken within the last 24 hours.
So having queued up in a church car park for two hours along with many other Spurs fans the day before, I was ready for the occasion.
After a drive to Stanmore and a short train journey, I arrived at Wembley Park Station – and although it didn’t have the same bustling feeling as 80,000 fans teeming out of the barriers, you could immediately feel the energy buzzing around.
People were in high spirits as Boxpark had an outdoor section for fans to enjoy a drink in the sunshine before they headed towards the newly built Wembley Way steps.
CHICKEN BAKES & TEAM TALK – THAT MATCHDAY FEELING
The process of getting inside was all pretty swift with fans asked to quickly show the text confirming a negative test before a standard metal detector scan and away you go.
With constant staff reminders that masks must stay on and hand sanitiser stations placed throughout, it’s clear organisers were doing all they could to ensure everyone’s safety.
After a couple more flights of stairs we arrived at the concourses, and that matchday feeling really did come flooding back….
The smell of the chicken bakes, overhearing discussions on team selections and tactics, ridiculous queues for the toilet.
Things seemed almost normal but with guidelines plastered around the walls, health and safety was evidently the primary caution.
A REAL FAN ATMOSPHERE
With the turmoil over the European Super League and the sacking of Jose Mourinho, the unity between Tottenham fans and the club appears more fractured than ever.
But all that seemed to wash away in an instant, as a chorus of chants emerged from the 2,000 faithful whilst the squad prepared.
And in good Cup Final spirits, the Manchester City fans took it upon themselves to try to sing over the Spurs crowd. Before Spurs tried singing louder than them. And so forth.
No “crowd noise” can replicate the atmosphere that fans create. The anticipation, the anxiety, the belief. It all culminates into an inescapable energy that resonates amongst the thousands in the crowd.
FINAL WHISTLE CITY PANDEMONIUM
At the final whistle, there was pandemonium in the City end. Limbs flailing in the sea of red seats as the City players rushed to one another and celebrated their fourth League Cup trophy win in as many years.
In contrast, the Spurs fans seemingly had their energy zapped from them as they trudged out of Wembley and battled with their post-match thoughts.
That’s the beautiful duality of life as a football fan though. It’s the weeks of waiting, the hours of anticipation, and the seconds that seem to last forever.
The UK government’s Events Research Programme plans for spectators to return to stadiums properly on June 21st – with hopes that Wembley will be at full capacity by the Euro 2020 final.
On May 15th, the stadium will be used for the FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Leicester City, where plans are for 21,000 fans to be in attendance.
Recently, Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters said he was hopeful for a small number of fans to be in attendance for the final Premier League games of the season.
Regardless of what happens, if the Carabao Cup Final on Sunday proved anything, it’s that football without fans is nothing.