The Glasgow Rangers Riots: Was Manchester to Blame?

Heather ParryCorrespondent IMay 16, 2008

As a non-football fan living in Manchester city centre, this week was always going to a be a tough one for me.


Manchester United winning the league at the weekend was bad enough in terms of football fans going wild, but with the UEFA Cup final the evening before I had to sit an exam and a truckload of Glasgow Rangers fans on the way, I was apprehensive to say the least.


It started on the Tuesday: on a train back into the city I was reminded of the upcoming match by seven Rangers fans having a "tin", or twelve in their seats and shouting at any girl who dared to stand up to get off.


On arriving at the station, I could see that the place was already swarming with blue shirts, and groups of grinning Glaswegians were posing for photos in front of landmarks. They were definitely there for the party.


Of course, a few catcalls and the odd drunken idiot isn’t really that much hassle, and I wouldn’t begrudge the fans of any sport the chance to party in the city where their team might be winning the UEFA Cup final.


However, when a city that expects about 25,000 visitors gets nearly 200,000, there’s always going to be trouble.


Manchester’s hotel rooms were swamped on Tuesday night, and even more so on the Wednesday, with one room being priced at £2500 – going back down to its usual price of £100 the following evening.


Many chose not to waste their money at all, facing the fair weather with nothing but their beer jackets and sleeping on the grass or benches of the city centre.


It’s not just the accommodation that couldn’t stand up to the demand: the lack of public toilets in the crowded areas meant that by Thursday morning, the whole area stunk (I don’t need to tell you what of), and the sheer volume of people meant that simply getting from A to B was a logistical nightmare. Trams were stopped, streets were shut off, and for most Mancunians, it was just easier to stay in.


It was pretty obvious, then, that something was going to kick off after the match – the only question was whether it would be worse if the Rangers won or lost.


However, the media seems to have done its usual job of sensationalising the situation to the extent that most of the truth has been lost in hyperbole.


Sure, the city was rammed to bursting, and couldn’t cope on any level with the amount of people that turned up. That’s a given.


But a mere 42 arrests out of 200,000, and only one stabbing, does not a Bedlam make.


Don’t get me wrong: I abhor the mob mentality and inherent hooliganism of football more than anyone else. As a hockey fan, the reason why people must set out to fight and destroy things after a sports game is completely beyond me.


It’s indisputable that there were a number of violent idiots trying to cause trouble. The police footage showing attacks on officers and violent crimes belies the stats, suggesting that a lot of guilty people simply got away with their actions.


However, the media is blaming a minority of Rangers hooligans for what we might call this "mini-riot", and completely missing the possibility that at least part of the fault in fact lies closer to home.


Many are praising Manchester city council in their treatment of the situation. Four large screens were set up around the city centre, and police were patrolling the streets from Tuesday afternoon on in order to try to keep the peace. For their part, they did a brilliant job.


Yet many of us were left incredulous about the amount of drinking that was not only being allowed by the authorities, but apparently facilitated by them.


By every big screen, there was a Carlsberg tanker, and in every area makeshift bars were placed to splash out as much lager as the Scots could handle.


The entrances of the major supermarkets were crowded by discount crates of beer, and I imagine the staff of the local bars and pubs were about ready to kill themselves by the time the match actually started. Glaswegians are notorious for their super-human drinking abilities, and by Wednesday evening they’d almost drunk the city dry.


Of course, it's foolish to think that any attempt to deprive these fans of their beloved beer would have worked on any level – everyone likes a bevy when they’re watching the game, and if they needed to, they’d have brought it from home.


However, the fact that a bill limiting public drinking due to go to the Town Hall the day before the match was intentionally postponed suggests that the council were putting money ahead of safety on their priority lists.


Indeed, many Mancunians heading to work on the morning of the 14th were greeted by the sight of fans slugging from bottles of whiskey on the streets at 8 a.m., and those moving through the city at lunchtime saw more intoxicated people than you’d normally come across in the Printworks on a Friday night.


The Rangers fans were getting annihilated – and the city was helping them.


Is it any wonder, then, that after over 24 hours of drinking a furore kicked off when one of the big screens broke during the match? Are we really shocked that the workers attempting to repair it were then pelted with cans and glass bottles so they couldn’t finish the job? What were the authorities expecting nearly a quarter of a million depressed and tanked-up football fans to do after their team’s defeat? Go home quietly to bed?


Those of us who live in Manchester were taking bets on what the morning news would tell us as we went to bed on Wednesday, and we were relieved as well as surprised to hear that there were no fatalities at all, and less than fifty arrests.


We were expecting a disaster, and what we got was a mere debacle.


Yes, the minority of Rangers fans who came to the city looking for a fight and got one are almost certainly the villains in this case, but every big football event brings out the obligatory yobs, and we were all prepared for that.


Perhaps if Manchester council hadn't been so desperate to squeeze every possible penny out of the whole situation, and sold their souls to Carlsberg in the process, it never would have gotten so out of hand.