One hundred thousand fans here in Manchester-and still they come streaming in. Bouncy, Bouncy is one of the Rangers songs and a double decker Stagecoach bus with about 80 Gers fans were bouncing up and down and the bus looked like one of those hot cars with heavy springs that you see on movies about East LA.
They won't get thirsty. I am in Market Street on the way to the big FAN ZONE in Piccadilly Gardens. Fans are wheeling carts stacked with 24 packs of Carling beer, 4 packs high, as they race each other to the music and song in the Gardens. There are planning for about 100,000 fans, but up to 200,000 actually show up, in their blue with red trim replica jerseys, special Manchester 2008 T shirts and replica UEFA CUPS. I got one free, about 3 foot high cardboard by buying the Glasgow Chronicle. The local rag, the M.E.N. Manchester Evening News, is free, every day.
Everybody is friendly-the 'Gers or Teddy Bears outnumber Zenit St. Petsburg fans about 2,000 to 1 !!. Its BEARS vs BUMS. the Zenit fans are nicknamed The Bums because on their frequent trips to Moscow for league and cup matches they sleep in bus shelters and the train station-since its so costly for a bed in the capital. Piccadilly Gardens is inches deep in 'water' by noon. I thought it was all spilt beer, but then I see the retaining wall and a waterfall of piss streaming from it as fans line up -about 30 abreast at a time to relieve themselves, even though there must be 100 portable toilets. It's so packed its difficult to move that fast when they need to 'go'. St. Etiene Premier Belgian Lager, Fosters, Carlsberg, Stella Artois, Budweiser, Galahad, Kronenburg, Grolsch, Tennents, Biere Blanche Wheat Beer, Castlemain, Kopperberg cider........ international brews for an international game..
All the pubs are packed; The Shakespeare, The Old Monkey, The Grey Horse. Nearer the stadium there is one strangely named The Spanking Roger, after a local champion nude racer, Roger Aytoun, in the late 18th Century. They had nude races on the local moor so that females could size up and choose their mates, and he was later a hero of the Siege of Gibraltar. Now you know! There are posters for another event in town, Queer Up North, a gay festival of music and art. There is even Pau Brasil Bar-no sign of South Americans though. Sainsbury's, a giant food and drink emporium has fans pouring out with 24 pack cases of various beers. I do see a few people drinking bottled water, but they seem to be 6-8 year old!. Glasgow must be half empty-who is manning the Unemployment Benefit Agencies over the border? There are lots of children here, and next morning,Thursday is national examinations day in Scotland, with no excuses accepted for absence.
Even the local parking police are wearing their red and blue uniform peaked caps as they ticket cars. I spot some Zenit fans having a photo opportunity, with mounted police and some 'Gers fans wearing the black helmets and red badge of Greater Manchester Police, with the police wearing the fans' tartan hats. All very friendly, arms around each other. There are some really long stretch limos, extended Hummers from West Coast Limo Co. One is named Devil's Desire. in black and fire red.
I take the Metrolink light rail to Old Trafford to see the new MUNICH TUNNEL under the South Stand, with its fitting tribute to The Busby Babes and the recovery after that disaster in 1958, 50 years ago. I go to the RED CAFE next to the Museum and look at the menu: Neville Luxury Chicken Nuggets, Scholes Junior Burger, Great Tevez Pizza, Rooney's Bangers and Fries, Giggs Spicey Beef Meatballs, Ronaldo's Chicken Caesar salad, Rio's Carrot, Celery and Cheese Sticks with a dip. All served with a choice of soft drinks and for only £4.50. I find out that's just for the childs plates!
So, I ajourn to the corner of Chester Road and Sir Matt Busby Way and the half dozen cafes. I choose the Lou Macari Cafe.(former Man Utd and Scotland star) All the fish, bangers and meat pies are already sold out to visiting gangs of fans, but a meat pudding and plate of chips for £2.00 is a bargain.
Back in the city centre where it is very hot and crowded I go to the Library, a magnificent historic building and use the computers.Its nice and cool in there and somewhere to sit down. Across the road I pass the Art Gallery, The steps were full of 'Gers fans sunning themselves, and the 'modern art' consisted of piles of empty beer cans, crushed in various shapes.
It's a good 30-40 minutes walk to Eastlands, The City of Manchester Stadium, with only 47,000 seats, and most get there on foot, but the city has laid on lots of free double decker buses labelled UEFA SPECIAL, from Piccadilly. I sit upstairs with about a dozen Zenit fans and the rest of passengers singing 'We are the People', 'We will follow Rangers', and various chants about the Pope, Papists in general and Celtic FC. Some wear orange Netherlands shirts in honour of 'King Billy', William of Orange from the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland from 1690!!. I tell the Russians that at least they can drink the tap water in Manchester. Last week I read the latest Jeffrey Archer book of shorts stories,'Cat O' Nine Tails', One, 'Don't Drink the Water', was about a businessman with a mistress who took his wife on a business trip to St. Petersburg. The hotel provided bottled water in bedrooms and bathrooms, and he replaced it with tap water,hid the 'do not drink tap water' signs, and she died.
The match itself was an anti climax, with Walter Smith's team looking very ordinary and outgunned by a much more skillful Russian team. After 72 minutes a sublime pass from Andrei Arshavin found Igor Denisov, who beat goalie Alexander to open the scoring. Four minutes into added time and the last kick of the match Konstantin Zyrianov made in 2-0. Zenit coach Dick Advocaat has been criticised for not having any black players, because the fans said they won't accept it. Of course Rangers never had Catholics on their team until Graham Souness, whose wife and kids were Catholic, brought in Mo Johnston,now boss at Toronto in the MLS. It was nice to see 'The Lawman', Dennis Law former Manchester United and City legend, up there with UEFA President Michel Platini to present the trophy and medals. Three of the Zenit players brought their babies and Michel hung the medals around their tiny necks, a very nice human touch. It certainly wasn't Champions League vintage champagne soccer by any means.
Rangers players were disappointed after losing the last of their 19 matches of the UEFA Cup campaign, which started last July. They have 3 more Scottish League matches at Fir Park,Motherwell, Love Street,St. Mirren and Pittodrie, Aberdeen to try and wrest the title from Celtic, and then the Scottish FA Cup Final at Hampden Park against lower league opponents Queen of the South from Dumfries on 24th May. Dreams of The Quad are now down-graded to The Treble, after they have already won the Scottish League Cup.
At kick-off time the giant screen in Piccadilly Gardens failed and although there were other locations, most were full. The free buses were available to a stand-by location at The Velodrome, but fueled with drink some fans attacked the police and ambulance personnel and 40 arrests were made. Worse, a Zenit fan was knifed and taken to hospital with none life-threatening injuries. OVERALL Manchester put on a good show and almost fans were well behaved. Lets see what happens in Moscow next Wednesday at the Champions League Final.