Fans return to the EPL as Chelsea, Man U enjoy comeback wins

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Chelsea's Olivier Giroud celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the English Premier League soccer match between between Chelsea and Leeds United at Stamford Bridge in London, England, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. (Matthew Childs/Pool via AP)

They filed into the stadiums for the first time in nine months, clutching treasured match tickets and with their masks partially hiding the glee on their faces.

What once might have been taken for granted — going to watch their teams play in the English Premier League — felt like a huge privilege Saturday for the fortunate 4,000 given the honor of being the first soccer supporters to be allowed into games in England’s top division since the outbreak of the coronavirus in March.

The fans — 2,000 from West Ham, 2,000 from Chelsea — had contrasting experiences on opposite sides of London.

West Ham imploded at its Olympic Stadium, squandering a 1-0 halftime lead against Manchester United as substitutes Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford inspired the visitors to a 3-1 win.

Chelsea’s players treated their select group of attending fans to a comeback of their own at Stamford Bridge. The hosts rebounded from conceding a fourth-minute goal from former player Patrick Bamford to beat Leeds 3-1 thanks to goals from Olivier Giroud, Kurt Zouma and Christian Pulisic.

England is the first of the major soccer nations to allow some supporters back into games during COVID-19's second wave now that its national lockdown has ended.

Only half of the Premier League’s stadiums are allowed to welcome back a limited number of fans. Teams from the cities and towns under the toughest coronavirus restrictions must still shut out their supporters.

For that reason, Manchester City played in an empty stadium for its 2-0 win over Fulham and Burnley’s Turf Moor also had no spectators for the team’s 1-1 draw with Everton.