United and Rangers embark on different paths to redemption

by Charlie Coffey

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

While Manchester United need to bounce back against Rangers tonight from conceding late equalisers at Craven Cottage and Goodison, it is Rangers fans who have the greater need for redemption, after dirtying the image of British football fans in 2008.

As a Mancunian I can still see the CCTV footage on the evening news of Rangers fans turning my beloved city into a warzone; fans having running battles with police officers past Mosley Street station, from which I used to get the last metro home as a teenager; a full-on riot in Albert Square, home of the medieval Manchester Town Hall, through which I walked every day when living off Deansgate.

For those who visited the city centre on that day this violence did not come as a complete shock. At around one in the afternoon my pal saw a Rangers fan relaxing on the steps of Marks & Spencer next to St. Anne’s Square. No, he wasn’t enjoying a spot of lunch whilst admiring the regeneration of the area following the IRA bombing in 1996. Instead he had passed out drunk, and had, for want of a better phrase, shit himself.

Most shops selling alcohol had to shut early, or at least call in emergency bouncers. Many were raided by fans who simply picked up as much booze as they could carry and walked out without paying. The scene was carnage before the players had even arrived at Old Trafford. Most Rangers’ fans knew they had little chance of finding a coveted ticket for the fixture at the City of Manchester stadium, and instead came for a piss-up and the promise of a view of the match on screens erected in the city centre.

Piccadilly Gardens, the site of the largest screen, offered a vista in sharp contrast to the jovial, respectful atmosphere of when Juventus played AC Milan in the Champions League final at Old Trafford back in 2003. Add a sprinkle of technical failure into the mix and what do you get? Bottles flying, stabbings, policemen being kicked almost to death, and aftershocks such as the cancelling of future public match screenings, ensuring that the price paid by Mancunians wasn’t just limited to that fateful night on 14th May 2008. There was also an increase in security for the Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester United in Moscow just a week later.

After a day spent around Red Square chanting and drinking beer and vodka, looking like a complete penarse in a my United shirt and Cossack hat, I interacted with Chelsea fans without the use of a bottle and managed to relieve myself in the rather more traditional toilet rather than the inside of my pants.  The 7,000 Russian riot police, armed to the teeth, licking their lips at the prospect of plying their trade on their Western visitors, were left as disappointed as John Terry.

As it is the rivalry between Chelsea and United is limited to the pitch, which is largely down to the lack of an historic enmity between the two clubs. Things may have been different, of course, if United were playing Liverpool.  However, Rangers have no such excuse, as their history against Zenit was non-existent. It seems that the locality of Manchester to Glasgow brought with it a deluge of the kind of fans who turn up to matches for the ‘craic’; the kind of fans who turn up at Old Trafford without tickets for the trouble at matches against the likes of Liverpool, Leeds or (more recently) City,  or go on away days after watching Football Factory whilst nursing a semi; fans who follow the trouble rather than avoiding it like most of us.

The truth, whether you like it or not, is that the majority of this kind of fan could not afford the trip to Moscow. If my old man hadn’t paid for my trip there is no chance that I could have either. The fans were mostly older professionals, the atmosphere in the United end was awful. This was the Champions League final for christ’s sake! It was almost as bad as when I sat in the exec seats at OT for a game against Arsenal and received evil looks from a women in front of me in a Mink coat every time a chant that I was singing (alone of course) contained a swear word. Italian fans are amongst the worst for a reputation of violence, but by taking the 2003 Champions League final abroad that was avoided.

Those responsible for planning such high-profile matches would prefer a Moscow to a Manchester (from the evidence of 2008 at least), whether it be for the image of UEFA or the local authorities hosting the match. For this reason FIFA may prefer Russia to England when it comes to the subject of crowd control. The disgraceful actions of a minority of fans such as some of those following Rangers’ to a high-profile match in Manchester in 2008 spoil the image of British fans to the detriment of normal fans who like having a beer before the game, chanting without feeling uncomfortable, and using a toilet.

A major security operation is in place in Manchester today. The police have been out in force in the city centre since this morning. Rangers fans have an opportunity to redeem themselves for their behaviour two years ago. Celtic fans are extremely rowdy and drunk when they visit, but respectful, friendly, and a lot of fun. The historic Catholic vs. Protestant crap is merely an excuse for idiots who like a fight. Let’s hope Rangers fans enjoy themselves, but respect the city of Manchester and leave it in one piece. They owe it not only to Mancunians, but also to themselves.

Read Charlie Coffey’s brilliant blog at my11.com.

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