17 May 2021

FA Cup Final

On Saturday (15th May 2021) I was fortunate enough to attend The FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium as part of the latest government test event to help ease us out of COVID restrictions. I wanted to share my experience so it might give others a little more confidence about attending events in the future, though as a life long Leicester City fan I'll struggle to capture every emotion I felt on the day and since. 


The yearly show piece final of one of sports premier competitions was selected as a test event allowing  for up to 22,000 spectators to be in the stadium. 6250 from Leicester City, 6250 from the opposition Chelsea and 9000, from local people/key workers. This followed from the FA Cup semi final which had just 4000 spectators from the local area in attendance. 


Once it was announced about the tickets I was unsure if I had enough points on my season ticket to qualify but thankfully I did. Anyone who has booked a ticket for a big event will know the stress of the moments leading up to the minute those tickets are on sale but luckily Leicester had put a great queuing system in place on their website which meant there was no problem with the website crashing. It was actually pretty easy to get the tickets booked.

Wembley Stadium Pre-Match.


One of the 'mandatory' things that was put in place was that anyone attending the game with an LE postcode (so anyone from Leicestershire) would have to travel on the clubs supporters coaches with a choice of two destinations (The King Power Stadium or Enderby Park and Ride). This certainly put a few put off initially as fans wanted to be able to make their own way to the stadium, be that by train, car or however. 


Another condition of attending the game was from 48 hours prior to the kick off every supporter had to go for a lateral flow COVID test and receive proof of a negative test. The whole process of the test was superbly run, getting in and registering the test and taking the test to then receive notification around 30 minutes later of the result - superb. Obviously I tested negative for COVID so I was good to go.


The day itself it came and off we went to the King Power to catch the coach. We decided to aim to arrive at the ground around 10.15/30am and it was very well organised at the ground from what I was. You had barriers up with stewards there checking people's bus confirmation, their negative COVID test results as well as checking bags. One of the concourses was open allowing for people to go to the toilet before boarding the coach. The boarding of the coaches was a very smooth process, people were put into different pens with each bus taking a maximum of 23 people. 


I was probably more anxious at the coach than I was about being in the stadium or even the match! On the bus we all had to wear masks and people were spread out allowing for distancing. The journey down was pretty smooth and we actually arrived at Wembley at 1.15pm - some 4 hours before kick off!


Once we got off the coach at Wembley we were free to do as we please. We walked around for a couple of hours taking in the atmosphere up Wembley Way and the surrounding area. As you can imagine there were lots of people drinking, be that in a pub garden or having brought some alcohol from a local shop. 

On Wembley Way


The next bit was getting into the ground, the stadium itself opened up at 3.15pm ahead of the 5.15pm kick off. To get in we again had to show proof of our negative lateral flow test and show ID, and with that we scanned our tickets, put our masks back on and we were in the stadium.


Once in our seats, which regardless of being in a bubble or anything were all spaced out so that there was an empty seat in-between each person.  The pre-match entertainment was good as the atmosphere built. The Coldstream Guards performed a few numbers before the players came out to warm up. There was rapturous applause from both sets of fans for their own set of players, after all for most of us we'd not been at a match for 15 months. As is tradition for the FA Cup Final the hymn 'Abide With Me' is sung pre-match, for this the Coldstream Guards performed with the B-Positive Choir (a group of singers who suffer with sickle cell disease or who close friends/family suffering with it). 


With 5.15pm approaching, the teams entered to pitch and the atmosphere was fantastic. There stadium may have been around a quarter of it's capacity but the noise levels were amazing. Fireworks and fire were set off the greet the players before Becky Hill performed the National Anthem with Prince William being introduced to both sets of players. Then it was kick off.


The first half was almost a non-event of tense nervous play. Chelsea had the best opportunity with Cesar Azpilicueta just unable to get his head to a cross. For the first half most people seemed to keep masks on around me, with stewards on the stairs reminding people to keep them on and people kept fairly apart. Half time came with the score at 0-0.


Into the second half went and up stepped Youri Tielemans. Picking up the ball about 35 yards out after a pass from Luke Thomas and not being closed down Tielemans strolled forwards and unleashed a rocket that flew past the Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga and into the top corner. Cue scenes of total bedlam. Bodies were all over the place, people flying down the stairs to the front, strangers hugging, a few blokes fell over (one went down about 5 steps - unharmed I must add). I know it probably wasn't in keeping with all the restrictions but if people just had such a release, especially after such a tough year. 


The clock was ticking, we were 1-0 up and then up steps another heroic performance on the pitch, this time goalkeeper and captain Kasper Schmeichel, first he just pushed Ben Chilwell's headed onto the post then he made one of the greatest saves I've ever seen after a thunderous strike by Mason Mount. He got down to his left and somehow palmed the shot wide. Sheer disbelief around me again. The bloke on the row in front kept turning around saying "I can't cope with this".


The drama wasn't finished as in the final couple of minutes a ball was played over the top of our defence where Chilwell picked it up and after a scramble the ball was turned in to our net and Chelsea had a dramatic late equaliser. Cue VAR (Video Assistant Referee) who looked at the goal and it turns out Chilwell was offside, only just mind you, and it was back to 1-0 and we were 5 minutes of stoppage time away from winning the trophy for the first time in the club's history. The scenes as the goal was chalked off were more bedlam than the earlier Tielemans screamer. This was OUR day.


The five minutes played out with heavy Chelsea pressure but after lobbed ball was headed out by Wes Morgan and Chelsea played it to the win referee Michael Oliver blew the full time whistle. We'd done it. Leicester City had won the FA Cup. I'll never forget that feeling as the whilst blew. Strangers were hugging, grown men were in pieces, people jump all over the place. There was such joy in our end as the players raced down to celebrate before lifting the trophy itself. 


After the trophy lift our owner Khun Top joined the celebrations with the players, manager and the backroom staff. It was a beautiful moment. Our late great chairmen Khun Vichai, who sadly died in a tragic helicopter crash in 2018, was certainly looking down on us all and smiling. At Leicester City we're blessed to have arguably the best owners in the country. With all the turmoil in football in recent weeks with the European Super League, the scenes after the final whistle felt not just a victory for us but a victory for football. 


After 30 minutes or so fans began to trickle out as the players returned to the dressing room. Euphoric joy was in the air as we all headed back towards the car park where the coaches were parked. With masks back on we were back on the coach and heading back to Leicester. The coach journey back was fairly subdued, I think we all left our voices and our energy in the stadium. 


We arrived back in Leicester just after 11pm. There was a party atmosphere about the city that you could just feel in the air. We returned home and I instantly put the highlight on to relieve the moments. 2 days on and I can still see that ball leaving Tielemans foot and flying in. 2 days on my voice isn't fully recovered!


Overall from my perspective the event was well run and organised by the FA, Wembley and it's staff and the two clubs. Sure the celebrations probably weren't COVID safe but who can deny anyone that moment of joy? It was truly a special day, one I shall never ever forget. Priceless and precious memories. It's made me feel a bit more confident about any anxieties with returning to a theatre or going on public transport again.


Me celebrating after the game

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