“I didn’t predict a riot” UEFA Cup mayhem

I got off the tram at Victoria. I usually do. This time though I had no option – this was the last stop. Not because of the usual track repairs either. Oh no, not today.

I squeezed out of the carriage, sucked along in the midst of a sea of red, white and royal blue. As my feet finally touched down on the platform, the river became a sea – a sea of bodies, all to a man, woman and child in various stages of inebriation. It’s fair to say that the stage most favoured was very drunk.

It was May 14th 2008 and Manchester was hosting the UEFA Cup Final between Glasgow Rangers and Zenit St. Petersburg. My tram companions who had boarded at Radcliffe (having seemingly emptied the place of alcohol and ill-fitting shorts) quickly dissipated into the periphery of my vision, consumed by the sheer number of people in similar attire. Union Jacks figured heavily, mainly worn batman- cape style. It’s a bold look and not one I’m confident I could carry off myself.

I set off for Piccadilly, having arranged to meet Mark, a friend from Chesterfield on the station approach. It was the most surreal walk I’ve ever had through the city centre, and god knows I’ve had a few. The streets were rammed with people on this balmy, barmy afternoon. If a space wasn’t taken up by a body, usually horizontal but quite a few vertical it was home to an assortment of empty beer cans/bottles of buckfast. Paper and empty wrappers formed a carpet of crap. People were pouring (some quite literally) out of every off-license and mini-supermarket along my route, laden down with beer. Gangs of lads, each one carrying a 24-pack of lager on their shoulders, were everywhere. I passed a few early casualties, most crashed out in any available doorway or alleyway. Some weren’t so fussy and happily slept with the smile of a drunkard whilst lying in the sunshine and piss.

A young lad foisted a can of stella onto me, apparent bewilderment etched on his face that not only was I sober, I wasn’t making any effort to get pished. My progress became slower as I neared Piccadilly. It was like being in a really busy pub on New Years Eve, except I was out in the open, in a busy city centre in the mid afternoon. Office workers scuttled homewards, conspicuous by their drab work clothes and determined not to make eye contact with their Scottish cousins.

I eventually reached the concourse for my arranged meet and took a step back to survey the scene around me. Unfortunately I stepped back onto a size 13 adidas trainer. I turned to apologise, dreading becoming involved in an altercation, or even conversation, with a replica-shirted visitor. I needn’t have worried. For some weird quirk I hadn’t stood on a paralytic Scotsman – my “victim” turned out to be my mate Neil off the telly. Strictly speaking he works behind the scenes, but how the fuck am I supposed to impress people by telling them that I’m friends with a researcher? He in turn was waiting to meet a mutual friend (a househusband/magazine editor who goes by the name of Mork) who arrived shortly after. Mark soon turned up from Chesterfield with a Rangers-shirted friend. Mork passed round some cans out of his carrier bag (don’t laugh – it was the done thing that afternoon) and we made our way to a decent vantage point to do some people-watching. Some of the sights on show made Bury look like downtown Milan in the middle of fashion week. Ginger hair, freckles and spew down your front will never catch on, hopefully.

Piccadilly Gardens had been modified for the day; it had been fenced off and fitted with a massive outdoor TV screen. More of which later….

After a few pints in Cask bar near Castlefield we found ourselves walking up towards Albert Square where we planned to watch the match on the big screen inside the fanzone there. No chance! We couldn’t get anywhere near.

People were everywhere and it was becoming more and more obvious that the organisers had spectacularly underestimated the sheer number of people who would turn up for the day. Due to a lack of toilet facilities the streets running between Cross Street and Deansgate had all been turned into impromptu giant urinals. Deansgate was awash with piss and in places was at a depth that worried anyone who had opted for suede trainers – like me (vintage adidas berlin for all you traineraks). We continued to the next big screen at Shambles Square but once more were turned back by the volume of replica shirted jocks. Kick-off was fast approaching and people were now becoming a little concerned about where they were going to watch the game. However, the fact that many were now seeing double and struggling to even stand up didn’t seem to bother them too much. We ended up losing the Chesterfield lads (who payed £6 to watch the match in a pub) and me, Neil and Mork ended up in Cord bar in the Northern Quarter which was cool and quiet, probably due to its lack of a telly. It was nice to get away from the mayhem for a while. A few years ago I would’ve been scared of missing summat but I enjoyed putting my feet up for a bit. My two companions were no spring chickens either.

After a couple of black beers we pressed on back towards Piccadilly in search of a pub with a TV to watch the match. As we got to the corner of Oldham Street and Dale Street we became aware of a huge wave of people, a mass swathe of Union Jacks walking towards us.

They were being directed away from the giant screen and the tension in the air was palpable – by now the game was in full flow. A friendly WPC (and to be fair GMP had been visible but in a good mood all day) informed us that someone had “thrown a brick or summat at the screen and knackered it”. The police came in for a bit of stick, the devils in skirts were well pissed off. Within minutes a riot van turned up, the back doors opened and loads of coppers ran up the road and began changing into their full Robocop outfits on the pavement.

Having seen enough pissed off Scotsmen to last us a month (you can never see too many can you?) we nipped back down Tib Street and came out on the top of Market Street – straight into a Mexican standoff.

To read the remainder of this ace account from Johnny Hall, get hold of a copy of Issue 7.

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