Leicester fans celebrate FA Cup victory at Wembley Stadium.

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The jerseys and scarves were back, the songs and cheers were back, and the long English football lockdown was over, it was obvious from the first move out of Wembley Park underground station on Saturday afternoon.

Leicester City's Jamaican defender Wes Morgan (L) and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel (R) hold up the winner's trophy as the Leicester players celebrate victory after the English FA Cup final football match  at Wembley Stadium May 15, 2021.

Leicester City captain Kasper Schmeichel, right, and defender Wes Morgan hold up the FA Cup – the first ever cup win for the club. Photo: AFP

Leicester players and officials hugged on the pitch following their 1-0 FA Cup win over Chelsea, but there was a larger celebration at Wembley.

“This is what football is all about, and if you don’t enjoy a day like today, you’ll never enjoy football,” one Leicester fan said before the game began.

The final of the world’s oldest tournament, played at the national stadium, was the ideal opportunity for the game to reopen its doors to fans in a big way.

There had been 8000 fans at the League Cup final last month but there was a noticeable difference with 21,000 making their way to the ground.

Leicester City's Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho celebrates on the pitch as the Leicester players celebrate victory after the English FA Cup final football match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Wembley Stadium in north west London on May 15, 2021.

Leicester City’s Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho celebrates on the pitch after the win at Wembley Stadium. Photo: AFP

The Coldstream Guards band played before the game, the national anthem was sung with just a little more enthusiasm than normal, and it seemed like both sets of fans were doing their part to raise the volume to compensate for the vacant seats in the upper section of the stadium.

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The loudest applause arrived in the 63rd minute, after Youri Tielemans’ magnificent long-range drive into the top corner, which proved to be the game-winner for Leicester.

“It was really special to have the fans in today, I hope everyone was safe. The fans watching from home too, they have supported us all the year through,” he said.

Leicester City's Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the English FA Cup final football match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Wembley Stadium in north west London on May 15, 2021.

Youri Tielemans celebrates scoring the match-winning goal. Photo: AFP

They have, but everyone knows it hasn’t been the same – not for the players performing in empty stadiums or for the fans watching television on their living room sofas.

“It is a bit strange, You must admit. You know, you’ve got used to this experience of seeing everything third hand on the television,” said Chelsea fan Jonathan Lipscomb before the game.

Leicester City fans cheer on their team ahead of the English FA Cup final football match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Wembley Stadium in north west London on May 15, 2021.

Leicester City fans cheer their team during the final against Chelsea. Photo: AFP

Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was unable to hear the questions in his post-match tv interview by the end, when his team’s fans partied behind him.

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Technically, the game was part of the UK government’s Events Research Programme, which was created to assess the effects of the return of large-scale events. To obtain admission to the arena, both fans had to show evidence of a negative Covid-19 inspection.

Fans will return to Premier League grounds in comparatively modest numbers for the final two rounds of play, but it is hoped that Wembley will have much larger crowds for the Euro 2020 semi-finals and final in July.

 

– Reuters

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