Who Will Support the Supporters? – [Archived]

Originally published as a FB Note, on 28 May 2008 at 00:19

Two weeks ago, I was very close to writing a post on the disgraceful trashing of Manchester by Rangers ‘fans’ during and after their appearance in the UEFA Cup Final.  Exasperated in equal measure as I was by all concerned, I saw no real injustice, so I decided to leave the subject alone – until now.
David Beckham on the bus being greeted by upto 700,000 fans after the Treble win in 1999.
David Beckham on the bus being greeted by upto 700,000 fans after the Treble win in 1999.

To recap, where there are 100,000+ Glasgwegians, copious amounts of alcohol and a high potential for disappointment, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what might happen next.  Given what did happen, it’s easy to paint the Rangers following as the villains of the piece.  Of course, they were the ones charging the police and breaking windows so whatever way you wish to look at it, they are hardly able to complain of victimisation.

Consider though for a second the role played by Manchester City Council here. Despite toeing the sensible line of advising ticketless United fans not to go to Moscow the following week, when it came to their own gig, the Council mysteriously and repeatedly trotted out lines beginning with ‘Despite all the advice, we know that more Rangers fans will want to be here than can be accommodated in the City of Manchester Stadium…’

When it comes to the injection of a few Bank of Scotland notes into the city’s coffers, it seemed the Council ‘bottled’ it – rather ironically.  Hey, what’s a bit of extra police overtime against a potential £50m in extra revenues? At the last minute, the City Council decided to lay on some big screens to make “better provision” for these fans that, had they been similarly following United in Moscow, the same Council would have advised not to travel.

So, as sure as a hangover follows a party, we had the flashpoint, the violence, the clean-up and the recriminations.  Another of the ironies of the situation was that the reported failure of one of the big screens was cited as a spark to the flame.  Like a rowdy regular, the Rangers fans took a certain delight in having their pint spilled and so had their fight to make their night. Like a greedy landlord, the city knew who they were letting in and only did it to sell a few more pints.  Both parties deserved what they got.

What about those caught in the crossfire, though? The real injustice only occurred eight days later when Manchester United’s Champion’s League victory was
denied a civic parade by the same Council, on police advice.  That’s right, the same supporters who voted for and pay their Council taxes to Manchester were asked to accept that the previous week’s maurauding Scots had irrevocably changed the risk levels of such a gathering that had caused no problems only eight years previously.

I was in the crowd at Deansgate on May 27th 1999.  The city’s main thoroughfare was carpeted with scores of thousands of people, all waiting patiently for the five minutes or so that they would have to see the team pass by. Aside from the odd over-enthusiastic building-scaler or lamp-post-climber, I saw nothing that would worry a police officer. The mood was overwhelmingly good-natured.  The atmosphere was almost identical to that at a festival or a major concert before the main act came on, euphoric and full of anticipation.

At the time, I was struck by the uniqueness of the situation that combined a Glastonbury feel with a city centre location.  Now the moment has passed and calls for a parade can only diminish to the extent that even if one happens, it will be a pale imitation.  Damn the brainless Rangers fans for their drunken idiocy.  Damn the spineless City Council for their greed and double standards and damn then feckless Greater Manchester Police for having the nerve to suggest that the two situations are even slightly similar.

Sadly, it seems I was right about the ’99 parade, but not in the way that it turned out to be unique. We may have a football team to be proud of , but
Manchester’s supporters deserved much, much more than they got from the people paid to act as a team supporting them.

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