Brown brands Rangers riot fans 'a disgrace'

GORDON Brown questioned yesterday whether the laws on drinking in public places needed to be toughened up, as he branded Rangers fans who went on the rampage in Manchester "a disgrace".

The Prime Minister condemned the hooligans for their running battles with police during and after the Uefa Cup final, while a senior police commander compared them to a "pack of wolves" after one of her officers was pounced on by about 20 thugs. Mr Brown said the scenes, caught on CCTV cameras, could damage England's chances of hosting the 2018 World Cup. He also said there may be a need to restrict ticketless fans from travelling to away games.

Alex Salmond, the First Minister, said the "shocking and unacceptable" violence had severely dented Scotland's hard-won reputation for well-behaved football fans.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

After Mr Salmond viewed the images yesterday, his spokesman said those involved had brought "shame to club and country".

Trouble flared before Wednesday night's match at the City of Manchester Stadium when a big-screen TV broke down 15 minutes before kick-off – leaving 20,000 fans stranded in the city centre with nowhere to watch the action.

Bottles were thrown at police officers and TV engineers sent in to try to repair the problem. When officers in riot gear were ordered in an hour later, the scale of the violence escalated and there were scenes of hand-to-hand fighting.

Police made 42 arrests and later confirmed that 11 Rangers fans, all men, were charged with various offences – seven for public order, one assault, one with being drunk in a sports ground and one for throwing a missile.

A further 11 Rangers supporters were bailed pending further inquiries and 12 were given cautions. Seven men, including one Zenit fan, were released without charge. The ambulance service said it had dealt with 52 assaults.

Shocking images showed one police officer being tripped up and pounced on by 20 hooligans after he became separated from six colleagues. From timings on CCTV pictures, the assault on the officer – who did not appear to be in riot gear – lasted a terrifying 18 seconds. "They jumped on him like a pack of wolves," said Justine Curran, the Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police. "It really was quite sickening to watch."

In violence that lasted into the night, 15 police were injured and ambulance crews came under attack. One senior police officer was hit so hard that his earpiece was embedded in his head and had to be removed by doctors. Another officer was hit over the head with a bottle and a third lost his front teeth after being headbutted. A police dog was also hurt.

The Prime Minister accepted that the trouble had been caused by a minority of fans and that most of the estimated 200,000 supporters had enjoyed a "carnival" atmosphere. But, clearly angry during his monthly No10 news conference, he said: "I condemn absolutely the violence that was caused by a small minority. It was a disgrace to see people misbehave. It was a minority, (but] it was completely unacceptable.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"We want to look at the powers the police have to be able to control the use of alcohol in public places. I think we also have to look at how the message is sent to people for the future … that if you want to come to a city where you don't have a ticket, you should think twice about that."

Wednesday had begun with Rangers fans arriving in force in Manchester for the final against Zenit St Petersburg. Crowds started building from 7am, with fans stocking up on cheap beer. A party atmosphere quickly developed, and Piccadilly Gardens – in the heart of the city and one of the sites for a big-screen TV – was full by mid-afternoon, as the number of Rangers fans in the city surged past six figures.

For more than three decades – since the scenes of the Tartan Army tearing up the Wembley turf and breaking the goalposts in 1977 – Scots football fans have prided themselves on their behaviour abroad: it was English hooligans who became the scourge of European football.

But that good reputation did not survive Wednesday night. Ms Curran blamed the situation on fans who "couldn't deal with their frustration (about the TV screen breaking] and had a great deal of criminal intent". But she said it "wasn't a riot", insisting: "It was an outbreak of pockets of disorder in one part of the city."

Asked why police had not enforced bylaws prohibiting drinking in public, she said it was impractical and could have sparked dangerous exchanges, as there were 200,000 people and the force had only 8,000 officers.

Rangers agreed the TV problem had been the "catalyst" for trouble and suggested some of the troublemakers were not part of their regular fan-base. The club vowed to help identify the hooligans. Martin Bain, the chief executive, said: "Those scenes are dreadful and I've seen them myself and we have been informed that those scenes were caused by supporters that don't normally attach themselves to our support."

Uefa described the trouble as "reprehensible", but accepted it was caused by the "usual suspects". Earlier, the Scottish Conservatives' deputy leader, Murdo Fraser, a Rangers fan, suggested the problem may have been caused by heavy-handed policing. But he later retracted this after police released footage showing the scale of the problems.

Wider reputations are tarnished by minority

THE trouble which blighted the Uefa cup final could damage the reputation of Scottish football fans, as well as that of Glasgow and the country as a whole, it was claimed last night.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

However, tourism experts insisted that any negative impact would be short-lived, with the actions of a minority unlikely to have a lasting effect.

Fans have been on a charm offensive since the country was associated with "casuals" at club level and supporters now generally receive a warm welcome at overseas fixtures. Scotland relies heavily on its tourism industry and Glasgow has had some high-profile marketing campaigns, the latest of which is Glasgow: Scotland with Style.

Hamish Husband, a Tartan Army stalwart, said the behaviour of the minority of Rangers fans would have implications for the reputation of all Scots football followers.

He said: "There has been so much good work done by a lot of fans, clubs and country, and I think yesterday will, in the short term, affect that."

Jack Law, the chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "What this illustrates more than anything is we are losing respect for alcohol and respect for ourselves as a consequence."

And branding expert Jonathan Gabay, of, said it was important that people continued to see the trouble as the fault of a minority, otherwise "we have got a serious problem". He added: "I would say that people are going to say it's a blight on the name of Rangers."

But Ian Herbert, the chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Forum, said

: "Scots abroad are very much welcomed and I think our reputation as being a welcoming nation is very positive. While, obviously this won't help, I certainly don't think it's something we should be overly concerned about. Glasgow has got an excellent reputation and activity around building the brand for Glasgow is really pushing forward."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A spokeswoman for VisitScotland said: "It's disappointing but we think that most people will make the distinction between a group of hooligans and won't judge an entire nation."

Lindsay McIntosh

How party atmosphere turned to violence

RANGERS fans' invasion of Manchester started several days before the game, but from Tuesday onwards car parks in the city centre were crammed with camper vans and cars belonging to supporters.

At 7am on Wednesday, fans were buying cases of beer at Tesco Metro in the city centre. Four hours later, the three fan zones set up at Piccadilly Gardens, Albert Square and Cathedral Gardens were nearly full and by mid-afternoon the fans were boisterous but good natured, with only eight arrests made.

The first sign of trouble arose shortly before kick-off, when a Zenit St Petersburg fan was stabbed inside the City of Manchester Stadium. His injuries were not life-threatening and five men were arrested, but were released without charge.

Then the big screen at Piccadilly Gardens broke down just 15 minutes before kick-off. Technicians tried to repair the signalling problem, but were forced to abandon their efforts after being pelted with bottles by fans in the 20,000-strong crowd at that location.

When a message flashed up telling fans the game would not be shown, Manchester City Council's contingency plans swung into action with buses laid on to ferry supporters to another screen at the Velodrome near the stadium. Some 11,000 people left to pile on the buses, or try to find somewhere else to watch the game.

However, nearby pubs and bars were already overflowing and the increasingly furious crowds were turned away. In Oldham Street, which leads on to Piccadilly Gardens, hundreds of riot police formed a cordon and were confronted by more than 200 fans, some of whom threw bottles at them. Riot squads charged the fans in an attempt to push them back to Piccadilly Gardens.

Described by Greater Manchester Police's Assistant Chief Constable as a "baying mob acting like a pack of wolves", the fans chased away seven riot officers in Newton Street. One of the officers was tripped up, kicked and stamped on the ground by around 20 supporters.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Running battles between police and fans continued in Market Street up until past midnight. There were 42 arrests and 15 officers injured. In one of their busiest ever nights, ambulance bosses took 2,000 calls in 12 hours and treated about 500 people.

Emily Pykett

Blue horde leaves sea of litter

THE crowds of up to 200,000 Rangers fans who travelled to watch the Uefa Cup final in Manchester left a "tide of filth" in their wake.

The streets were littered with broken glass, empty bottles, cans, vomit and even human excrement. It looked "like a tornado had hit the city", one resident told The Scotsman. Yesterday, the city council was embarking on its biggest ever clean-up, with hundreds of tonnes of rubbish uplifted. Rangers supporters admitted they left behind a sea of litter, but accused authorities of being unable to cope with such an unprecedented volume of visitors.

Adam Moxley, 25, a web developer who lives close to Piccadilly Gardens, in Dale Street, said: "I went exploring yesterday morning to see the aftermath and it looked like a tornado had hit Manchester – there was just rubbish everywhere."

Andy Kerr, vice-president of Rangers Supporters Assembly, said: "A lot of it was down to people being lazy and having a carefree attitude. But it was absolute bedlam, and even though you could see they had put in portable toilets and litter zones, I think the authorities found it difficult to cope."