Sunday, 18 May 2008

The Big "Manchester Debacle" Post

Ok, here goes.

I had it in my head that the trip down on the train would be a pretty grim affair, but it wasn’t a bad as I expected. It was busy, but not as mobbed as I though it would be. That said, there were still plenty of dull bams on board to make the trip seem all the longer.

In particular there was the completely steaming teenager who seemed focussed on letting everyone know that he intended “no surrender”, although he seemed unable to express who or what he was unprepared to accede to or for that matter, express any other cogent thought. He also insisted on hugging anyone he felt was a Rangers fan referring to them as “brother” whether male or female, although I managed to stave off his attempts at friendly interaction by reading a book which acted as a reasonable tit-repellent I would assume only because it delineated the dividing line between our man and those able to express themselves multi-syllabically.

There was also another drunk twat who hassled a thankfully nicely natured girl heading home to Manchester FOR THE ENTIRE JOURNEY with his tiresome and utterly boorish brand of pissed up flirting. Wherefore art thou Romeo? The offy by the looks of things.

I arrived about 12.30 am and was picked up by my wee sister and her boyfriend, who looked after me really well throughout my trip, more of which later. The Glasgow influx made sure Manchester knew we’d arrived with some choice choruses of that particular brand of song that seems forever associated with Rangers despite having nothing to do with football.

On the day, I headed into Manchester for about 11am and the town was even at that stage totally jumping. I walked up from the already packed Piccadilly Gardens Fanzone to meet old work mucker Ian at the Albert Square Fanzone and availed myself of a 3 quid Carlsberg from the beer tent while I waited for him to show up.

Ian introduced me to his mates who very nicely allowed me to tear into their beer and grub pretty much for the full day. The place was filling up steadily throughout as we drank and chatted and a local ska band entertained the masses. The facilities were a bit basic – the loos were inadequate in number and I saw one bin in the whole zone. On top of that there was nowhere on site to buy food that I saw and even in terms of souvenirs there was a low turnout of chancers with gaudy crap to peddle.

Heading towards match time, the most pleasant incident of the day took place. One of our group who I kid you not was called David Cooper, presented his father (also David Cooper) and his mother with 2 tickets for the game. It was a lovely gesture and seemed at the time to typify the mood of togetherness that had built up.

Then things started to turn just a little bit. We heard that the screen at the Piccadilly Gardens Fanzone had gone down and our zone began to get really rammed, we presumed with people moved to the Albert Square zone. The game kicked off and again, the atmosphere remained jovial until we conceded the first goal, after which it began to turn to mounting disappointment. Predictably after final whistle there were a few fans moaning about people leaving, but nothing untoward. My sister was picking me up from Piccadilly Station, so I left with the initial exodus. As we approached the exit, I and several others were puzzled to see that barriers erected during the day to designate the zone were still in place. I remember thinking this was odd and potentially dangerous as it meant several thousand people would be heading towards an eight-foot across bottleneck all at the same time. By the time I reached the exit, I was shocked to see several coppers in riot gear who were responding to people asking why the street hadn’t been opened with shoving and aggressive remarks. “What the fuck’s happened here?” I wondered.

As soon as I got out on the streets I was struck by a stark change in the atmosphere. It was tense and raw, like the Bell Street taxi rank at chucking out time in Glasgow. Suddenly, there were a lot of pished up people about all looking for as instant a way home as they could get. As I got closer to Piccadilly, it got even worse as it became apparent that there were some groups of lads hanging around intent on causing trouble, although I have to say all I saw that was really untoward was a group of lads lobbing McDonalds cartons at a passing police van.

I waited for a bit for my sister to pick me up and it was only then listening to the radio on the way back to her flat that I realised there had been big-time bother and everything started to make sense.

I heard a lot of mitigation for the trouble from the Rangers fans side of things some of which I buy, some I don’t. For example, it’s pretty obvious that there were plenty of well-known Manchester thugs involved in the trouble. One story, which I believe as I know the family involved, was that my friend, with her Dad, Uncle and Brother, found a young lad smashing up a car as they made their way to their mini-van. When my pal’s dad confronted him he was told, “fuck off you Scottish cunt” and the lad went for him, not realising he was with people. Sadly for this particular would-be rioter, the rest of my mates’ family piled in and he got the proper kicking he so richly deserved given the circumstances.

I’ve heard that the switch of fans from Piccadilly Gardens to the Veladrome was a dogs breakfast with virtually no transport and no-one even to offer directions and I’ve also heard that, vastly outnumbered and shitting themselves, the police were hugely over aggressive in a bid to compensate. Meh, maybe. The best one so far that I’ve heard is that the authorities decided that there were too many people at Piccadilly Gardens and that the game was switched off deliberately in an effort to get people to disperse. I have trouble swallowing that one - surely no one is that daft?

Whatever the catalyst for the bother, there’s no doubt that some Rangers fans decided a rammy with the polis would be more fun that just heading up the road and that’s not fucking good enough. The sad fact is that there is an element of the Rangers support that is steeped in thuggery – many of those involved were, we’re just starting to find out, convicted criminals.

But that’s no even the half of it. The big problem with the Rangers support is that they struggle to this day to define themselves in any way other than in direct opposition to their rivals Celtic. Despite the long history of the club and their tradition of success, most fans seem to associate supporting Rangers with being a loyalist and, more particularly, with not being a catholic. The vast majority of fans indulged in sectarian singing throughout the day and most faced down the news of the trouble by being as belligerently obnoxious as they possibly could be on their way home, playing up to the “no on likes us, we don’t care” stereotype.

I, like many others, found myself thoroughly embarrassed by the shambling bands of still-pissed muppets who were making the lives of ordinary people a total misery as they travelled home on Thursday, barely able to walk let alone show conductors their travel tickets. The sad news of Tommy Burns’ death only compounded a feeling that the actual result of the game was totally meaningless in the face of later events.

The media coverage of what had happened was very interesting. Thanks to rolling news, the trouble started out as “scuffles” developed into “skirmishes” and eventually became “rioting” once the tabloids had got a hold of things. BBC Manchester and the Manchester Evening News were particularly keen to ensure that no blame fell on their city and I was astonished at how quickly and how comfortably the Manchester media slipped into a means of reporting events that utilised broad nation stereotypes and a completely biased simplification of what had happened. Poor Manchester had apparently been invaded by “Drunken Glaswegians” who left their city strewn with rubbish and smelling of piss. That will happen when you invite 100,000 people to your town centre and neglect to provide bins and adequate toilet facilities though, won’t it?

As for the game itself, we were well beaten in the end. Now we have also blown the league, we’re looking at the prospect of Cup double that I would happily have taken at the start of the season. It seems the people who were saying Rangers would run out of steam were right after all. It’s totally gutting that we won’t win the league now, but disappointed as I am, I think the recriminations towards Walter Smith should be kept to a minimum. A consolidation team put together with less than Zenit paid for their captain did us proud, even as we let them down so badly.

And that sadly is what I will take away from this season. When once there was so much promise, now I feel barely able to say I’m a Rangers fan without feeling anything but shame. I reckon it’ll be a good while before I’m back at Ibrox to mix with the legions of bams who are simply not good enough for the brilliant team of gutsy players they claim to follow. At least the team adhered to the true traditions of the club throughout the season. Shame more of the fans couldn’t do the same.

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