EXCLUSIVE: Fans will return to football at the Wembley FA Cup semi-final on April 18 with a 4,000 crowd – football’s largest since Covid – but Leicester City and Southampton supporters WON’T get tickets with only local residents allowed
- FA Cup semi-final is a pilot event testing how crowds can return to venues safely
- Government has stressed that the events are scientific tests of the protocols
- It’s hoped the testing programme will allow large crowds to later in the summer
- Carabao Cup, FA Cup final and World Snooker Championships also test events
The FA Cup semi-final between Leicester City and Southampton has been selected by government as the first football test event for the return of fans.
The match on April 18 will be played in front of 4,000 people at Wembley Stadium, who are expected to be residents of the borough of Brent, rather than spectators of the clubs.
Health service workers may also be invited to attend the event, which is the first step on the road to returning large crowds – and even full houses – at sporting events later in the summer or next season.
The FA Cup semi-final between Leicester City and Southampton has been selected as a Covid test event, but fans of the respective clubs will not be able to attend
Fans will be permitted inside Wembley for the semi-final between Leicester and Southampton
The government has stressed that the pilot events are designed to investigate how to keep people safe in crowds, rather than provide an opportunity for clubs’ supporters to see their teams in action.
However, the hope is that the results of this and the other pilots, which will take place in April and May, will lead to significant numbers in the latter stages of Euro 2020.
The government is expected to announce a list of around 14 pilot events soon. The FA Cup semi-final will be one of the first. The list also includes the Carabao Cup final on April 25 between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City and the FA Cup final on May 15, as well as the World Snooker Championships at The Crucible in Sheffield, which begins on April 17.
Whitehall sources stress that fans will not be put at risk with the test events
In addition, a horse-racing meet will also be included on the list, as well as other cultural and business events, as officials investigate safety procedures across different environments.
THE NEW LIMITS FROM MAY 17
From May 17, indoor venues will be allowed to admit up to a maximum of 1,000 spectators, or half their capacity if that figure is lower.
For outdoor events, there will be a maximum of 4,000 fans allowed, or half a venue’s capacity (whichever figure is lower).
However, at the biggest stadiums, such as Wembley, a maximum of 10,000 fans will be allowed, or a quarter of capacity (whichever figure is lower).
However, at the biggest stadiums, with a capacity above 16,000, such as Wembley and Premier League football grounds, a maximum of 10,000 fans will be allowed, or a quarter of capacity (whichever figure is lower).
Inevitably, government and sport are determined to take a cautious approach, with scientists setting the pace.
However, it is anticipated that as the pilots proceed, the numbers will ramp up with the possibility that the FA Cup final could be played in front of 20,000 people.
Wembley is reportedly hoping to admit 45,000 fans in the 90,000-seat arena for the semi-final and final of Euro 2022, which would be seen as a major achievement.
But for the FA Cup semi final, officials want to simply look at the flow of people in and out of the stadium and do not want to introduce the added complication of fans travelling long distances to the game.
The Leicester-Southampton game has the added advantage of neither team being based in London. The other semi is between Chelsea and Manchester City on April 17.
The pilots are all designed to test different aspects of events and the details are still being worked out, Lateral flow antigen testing, which establishes if a person has coronavirus, is thought to be one aspect scientists want to look at, but it is not clear how that will be introduced.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap to lifting lock down restrictions has targeted May 17 as the date from which it is hoped that up to 10,000 fans can return to venues, depending on their size.
The next key date after that is June 21, when government has said it may be possible for all restrictions to be lifted, but only where it is safe to do so. The government will be closely monitoring Covid infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths as it decides if it can take the final step and end all lockdown measures.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap creates the possibility of full houses after June 21
The 13 pilot events will be used to analyse whether a combination of vaccination and testing, among other measures, is effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus at events.
A report will go to ministers at the end of May, which will help them decide whether to ease restrictions further in June.
This will be a critical period for England’s ‘great summer of sport’, which includes seven matches in Euro 2020 to be staged at Wembley Stadium, including England’s group games and the semi-finals and finals, as well as Wimbledon, a full programme of international cricket, the British Grand Prix and The Open golf.
The FA Cup semi-final has been added to a list of a events to pilot the return of fans