15/05/2008

Rangers Fans Riot As Big Screen Fails To Score

Although it's still not known if anyone from Northern Ireland was among the many arrested after trouble at last night's big Rangers match in Manchester, thousands of fans from Ulster were among the estimated 100,000 Glasgow Rangers supporters who descended on Manchester for the Uefa Cup Final.

Even though the club was 'officially' allocated only 18,000 tickets, over six times as many fans travelled to enjoy Manchester City Council's three special fan zones with big screens for ticketless fans to watch the match.

However, while screens in Albert Square and Cathedral Gardens did show the game, the one in Piccadilly Gardens failed about 15 minutes before kick-off - sparking disorder on a large scale.

One local fan, who works in a Belfast call centre explained that a lot of money had been spent getting to the event and fans were obviously unhappy.

Match tickets were out of the question as touts were offering fans them for sums in excess of £900.

He said people were spending a lot of money getting to the event and while the trouble was inexcusable, the level of disappointment was understandable.

He said that with many fans arriving early and spending the day drinking, trouble seemed likely with the screen failure providing the excuse.

He said that Rangers supporters from Northern Ireland and across the British Isles flooded into Manchester hoping to see their team beat Zenit St Petersburg in the Uefa Cup final match - but when the big public screen failed - it proved too much for many, especially among those who had drunk local off licences and some pubs dry earlier in the day.

"I saw several off sales having to simply close their doors by mid afternoon, as they had been emptied of all their stock and I'm told the same happened with several pubs too," said the Belfast fan.

As the BBC has reported, other fans who had been waiting in Piccadilly Gardens all day were also unimpressed.

"We've been sat here since 12 o'clock waiting on the game coming on. The coverage started at seven o'clock and then five minutes later the game's off.

"It's an absolute shambles, shame on Manchester, shame on Manchester - it's let the country down."

"Some people are really angry. They've spent a lot of money - maybe £4,000 to £5,000 - to come down here for this."

A UTV reporter, Neil Brittain, who was in Manchester, said: "You can imagine the scene. About 40,000 fans just in that square alone, gathering, having been there all day to watch the biggest game in their club's recent history and for the screen to fail.

"It's not ideal, by no means am I excusing the behaviour, but that seems to have been the spark that ignited the whole thing last night," he said.

In a separate incident a Russian fan was stabbed in the back at the City of Manchester stadium itself, though his injuries were not life threatening according to Greater Manchester police.

In the mini riot, damage was caused to a bank, bus stops and a sports car, which was bounced across a road.

A number of fans and at least 15 police officers - and a police dog - were hurt in the clashes.

Police injuries include a broken arm, a dislocated shoulder and cracked ribs. The dog suffered a serious cut to his paw. Fans suffered cuts and at least one was bitten.

Assistant Chief Constable Justine Curran said the day had been "largely peaceful" with more than 100,000 fans behaving well in an atmosphere of "carnival and celebration".

"A minority of thugs have overshadowed what should have been a great occasion," she said.

However, Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, said "the finger of blame" pointed at fans, rather than with one of the big screens breaking down.

"I think a small number of Rangers fans have let themselves down and they've let their city down," he said.

On the pitch, Zenit St Petersburg 'struck a blow' for the new era of Russian football, lifting the trophy, thanks to goals by Igor Denisov and Konstantin Zyrianov in a match illuminated by the skills of Andrei Arshavin.

(BMcC)

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