2008 UEFA Cup Final riots
|2008 UEFA Cup Final riots|
|Part of the history of Manchester|
Officers of the Greater Manchester Police keep Rangers F.C. and Zenit fans apart
The match between Rangers F.C. and FC Zenit Saint Petersburg was preceded by scuffles between fans. Serious disorder was allegedly sparked by the failure of a big screen erected in Piccadilly Gardens to transmit the match to thousands of Rangers fans who had travelled to the city without tickets. In addition to property damage, fifteen policemen were injured and ambulance crews attended 52 cases of assault. A Manchester City Council inquiry into the events estimated that 300,000 Rangers fans visited Manchester for the match, 39 fans were arrested for a range of offences across the city and 38 complaints were received about Greater Manchester Police officers' conduct. The report concluded that the 37,000 Rangers fans inside the City of Manchester stadium were well behaved.
The rioting was widely condemned, particularly by politicians and media commentators.
One early incident occurred when fighting between rival fans broke out in a pub, resulting in its closure. The evening before the match, Rangers fans had set off fire alarms in the city, a criminal offence. An official report found that missile-throwing and fighting by Rangers fans occurred as long as eight hours before the match began. Around late afternoon the Piccadilly fans zone's gates were forced. Large numbers of fans were jumping upon the roofs of sales units and urinating. The sales units were "overrun" and frightened staff had to flee. Police were called but were powerless in the face of large numbers of supporters.
Serious civil disorder began when a large screen, erected to broadcast the game at the Zenit fanzone in Piccadilly Gardens failed. Chris Burrows, chair of the Manchester Police Federation, claimed the screen was deliberately switched off. The technicians who were brought in to try to rectify the fault were attacked with bottles and had to withdraw. Rangers fans then tore down railings, fighting amongst themselves, as the riot police arrived en masse. Several hundred people became directly involved in disorder and "considerable violence" was directed at the police. Thirty-nine police officers were injured, including one incident in which hundreds of fans isolated and attacked a riot officer. PC Paul Ritchie received a High Commendation for saving a police officer knocked to the ground by a bottle thrown by a rioter. A police dog was injured when it stood on some broken glass.
BBC News reported that groups of Rangers supporters had clashed with police in the city centre after attacking a bank, bus stops and a sports car which was bounced over the road. Greater Manchester Police reported that "a minority of thugs" among more than 200,000 visiting Rangers fans were involved in the violence.
There were reports that a Zenit Saint Petersburg fan was stabbed before the game outside the stadium. However, people detained in connection with the alleged incident were released without charge.
Authorities had to draft in hundreds of extra riot police to deal with the rioting. As the riots continued, by 2100 BST, ambulances were no longer being sent into the city centre unless accompanied by a police escort due to concerns about the "safety of the crew".
BBC News interrupted normal programming to broadcast the riots live on television, with ITN's flagship News at Ten programme giving extensive coverage to the riots. Judge Andrew Blake of Manchester Crown Court, when later sentencing twelve people in connection to the disorder, described the riots as "the worst night of violence and destruction suffered by Manchester city centre since the blitz".
The following day the Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the rioting as "a disgrace". Scottish Conservative leader, Annabel Goldie, said she was "absolutely appalled" by the footage, condemning the behaviour as "horrific and inexcusable". Stephen Purcell, leader of Glasgow City Council, offered an apology in a Manchester newspaper for 200 hardcore thugs.
Rangers Chief executive Martin Bain described the scenes as "dreadful" but claimed that the violent scenes "were caused by supporters that don't normally attach themselves to our support". He also stated that the club was "in general, absolutely delighted with the behaviour of our supporters."
Alan Bairner, Professor of Loughborough University's School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, described Rangers as having "the biggest hooligan problem in the British game". Representatives of the Tartan Army indicated that the disturbances may damage the reputation of Scottish football fans abroad.
PC Mick Regan, attacked by a gang of twenty Rangers fans while lying on the ground, described the violence. "It was unbelievable when we got there, it was already in motion. It was frightening, on a different scale from any other match I have worked in my 23-year career. It seemed the vast majority were drunk and they just wanted to cause trouble. A lot of the fans were OK and just asking for directions but there was a large hard core ... .I know they will say it's a minority but a few thousand is a big minority." Detective Superintendent Geoff Wessell, of Greater Manchester Police, stressed that a "very, very low proportion" of the travelling Rangers fans had been involved in disorder.
Criticism of police conduct
Many Rangers fans criticised the tactics employed by Greater Manchester Police. In particular, the deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives' Murdo Fraser suggested the problem might have been caused by heavy-handed policing. He later retracted this after police released footage showing the scale of the problems.
There were 63 complaints about police conduct, mainly on the grounds of excessive force. They included one from a 60-year-old man who spent four weeks in hospital after suffering a broken hip and perforated bowel. One fan, James Clark, was charged with rioting, but later cleared of all charges by a court in Manchester. He told STV, "I have been through utter hell because of the police. They picked me out of crowd of fans at random, beat me black and blue with their batons and set their dogs on me. Yet they charged me with being violent. You couldn't make it up." The police, however, defended their actions.
There was also criticism from supporters regarding the organisation of the event. In response the Leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese, said "If we are going to put a finger of blame anywhere it has to be with those fans having to take responsibility for their own behaviour."
Arrests and convictions
Manchester City Council announced that 39 fans were arrested for various offences. These included Section 18 wounding at the stadium in relation to the Russian man who was allegedly stabbed, public order offences, touting, affray, possession of an offensive weapon, Section 47 assault, common assault, possession of Class A drugs, theft, possession of forged tickets, and a Zenit fan for pitch incursion. The force's Assistant Chief Constable referred to the behaviour of the fans were involved in trouble as "unnecessary and unacceptable".
In August 2009, thirteen suspected football hooligans appeared in Manchester magistrates court charged with violent disorder following the final. In particular, Scott McSeveny was charged with knocking PC John Goodwin unconscious; another fan, Mark Stoddart, was alleged to have assaulted PC Mick Regan. Twelve people were convicted of rioting and eleven given prison sentences varying from six months to three and a half years in September 2010.
An arrested rioter was found to be a serving Essex police officer who was off duty at the time of the incident. He was charged with violent disorder and was released on bail.
Return to Manchester
Plans by Manchester United to invite Rangers to be the opponents for Gary Neville's testimonial match were reportedly abandoned in April 2010 due to objections from police and the local council over fears of trouble due to remaining bad feeling over the damage caused to Manchester city centre by the riots.
Rangers were drawn alongside Manchester United in the same group for the 2010–11 UEFA Champions League group stage, with the opening game at in Manchester on 14 September 2010, with a reverse fixture in Glasgow on 24 November. The draw raised security concerns, in particular regarding the potential for possible reprisals, and the prospect of a large number of ticket-less fans arriving in Manchester. United's chief executive David Gill played down the potential for trouble, emphasising instead the connection the two clubs have in both the current club managers in Alex Ferguson of United and Walter Smith of Rangers. The Rangers chief executive Martin Bain also dismissed concerns, highlighting the club's good relations, and prior Champions League meeting in 2003.
Prior to kick-off, away supporters were held at Wigan Athletic's DW Stadium, to prevent congregation within Manchester city centre. The match passed with 10 arrests for minor offences, involving five Rangers supporters and five Manchester United fans. The behaviour of Rangers fans was praised by Greater Manchester Police. Wigan Athletic's safety officer also commended supporters' behaviour, commenting "Rangers fans are welcome here any time in the future, because we had a superb reaction from those who travelled".
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