Fans returning to Wembley was hailed as a “remarkable success” – but has come with a warning ahead of crowds at the Euros.
Leicester City and Chelsea supporters were back in big numbers for the first time since the pandemic as there were 22,000 spectators for the FA Cup final which was the biggest of a series of test events.
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston was at Wembley and admitted that the Indian variant could impact upon hopes of getting 45,000 fans at the Euros with the Government hoping to remove Covid restrictions by June 21.
The Premier League will welcome back crowds of up to 10,000 for the final two rounds of matches this week and hope to have stadiums full for the start of next season but the variants is clearly a major worry.
Huddleston said: “This was the biggest sporting event – in fact, this is the biggest event – in the UK for 14 months. The biggest gathering of over 20,000 for 14 months and that’s quite a milestone really. The fact we’ve got to this point is quite remarkable.
“We couldn’t have done it had we not felt comfortable with the roadmap, had the vaccination programme not gone well and other test events had gone well. So that in itself must be seen as a success.
“But variants are called variants of concern for a reason – they are of concern. There’s no doubt we are worried about them but we always would be.
“We want to get as many fans as possible into stadiums again. June 21 was always going to be from the June 21, not on June 21. We’ll see. But I’m still very confident.
“I’m hoping we get there, I’m hoping we’ll get to capacity crowds soon but it depends entirely on the variants of concern but it’s a goal and has been all along.
“From Monday, there’s a lot opening up and crowds and that will make such a difference. But opening up is one thing and opening up profitably is another. We’ve got to get the crowds up from an economic sense and we recognise that.
“The cup final is a really important signal and we wouldn’t have done this if we weren’t making progress.”
Huddleston also expressed his disappointment that UEFA could not stage the all-English final at Wembley but said the Government was not willing to compromise on demands or safety when it came to letting in fans and workers into the UK.
Huddleston did insist that he was hopeful both Chelsea and Manchester City fans would have a “decent experience” as the Portuguese authorities would relax rules for tourists ahead of the final on May 29.
He also said that calls for an independent regulator could be “part of the mix” with former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch leading a full scale review after the European Super League debacle.
Huddleston added: “Clearly, a regulator will be part of the mix but I can’t preempt what will be the recommendations.
“Let’s be very clear, we so don’t want the ESL to go ahead, we don’t want it to come back. Maybe we don’t have to legislate. Maybe we can put contractual terms into place but certainly we’ll be working with football here in England and win the UK to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“I think there’s a clear message from Parliament but also from fans most importantly and it would be a very brave set of clubs to step forward and propose that again. I don’t think we could be any clearer: you’ve got to listen to fans and you have to keep that going.”
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