Irish Cup final sees fans return to football after lockdown in a UK first

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David Jeffrey and Mick McDermott go head-to-head.

Q Radio Sport

The first football match in the UK to have fans in attendance since the coronavirus pandemic takes place on Friday evening.

A crowd of 500 will be allowed into Windsor Park to watch the Irish Cup final as Ballymena United face Glentoran (8pm).

Glens boss Mick McDermott says it should be quite an occasion against David Jeffrey's team:

McDermott says Northern Ireland is setting the standard:

Both teams got through the semi-finals after penalty shoot-outs on Monday - Glentoran knocked out Cliftonville and the Sky Blues accounted for Coleraine in their derby. 

Manager Jeffrey is praying for the same again: 

Jeffrey says the Glens are favourites, but the semi-final fightback showed his players are determined to finish the season on a high:

The cup final is a pilot event for the planned widespread return of supporters.

The 500 attendance means 250 fans from both clubs in the 18,500-capacity stadium. (Glens in the Kop end, Sky Blues, Railway end).

“We’re a bit of a pioneer here in bringing some fans back into live sport,” said Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson. “It’s up to us as the venue operator to make sure that everything is done safely and secure and we think that’s a good number to start off with."

Windsor Park, Belfast - open for business on Friday night. 

Northern Ireland is ahead of the rest of the UK as the pandemic lockdown restrictions are eased here.

The FA Cup final on Saturday will be played without any spectators at Wembley, just like the Premier League concluded in empty stadiums following a 100-day shutdown.

An official from Britain's Sports Grounds Safety Authority will be in Belfast for the final, which was originally scheduled to be played in May, to pick up tips on how fans can safely sit at stadiums.

There will be temperature checks on entry for supporters and they will be restricted to sitting behind the goals. The need for players to social distance means corporate lounges will be used to change in, and team talks will take place on the field.

“There’s a lot of restrictions," Nelson said. "It is, as they say, the new normal for now. And we’ll see how it goes on Friday.”

IFA chief Patrick Nelson.

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