Behind the Photo: The Rangers Riots, 2008

Whose stupid idea was that then?

Credit: Joel Goodman

Invite 150,000 Rangers fans into the city, let them sit around and booze ALL DAY and then fuck up the screen in Piccadilly Gardens causing them to take to the streets and actually riot.

Referred to as one of the “worst nights of violence in Manchester since the Blitz“, 14th May 2008 will forever live in the memory of anyone who lived in Manchester at the time and witnessed firt hand the chaos and carnage before the match, the scenes afterwards and the state of the city in the morning.

The fans themselves were in the city to watch Rangers play Zenit Saint Petersburg in the UEFA Cup Final at the Etihad Stadium. With an allocation of 37,000 tickets for the Scots, thousands more were to descend on the city, so the council created a series of ‘fanzones’ with large screens dotted around the city.

A mate of mine at the time was working in Ted Baker on The Shambles in the city centre and he recalled how the city was inundated with pissed up Rangers fans very early in the day. He opened the shop at 10am and was forced to close at around 3pm after constant troubles – something that was reflected throughout the city that day.

“By mid-afternoon thousands of drunken fans were causing chaos in the city centre, urinating in shop/office door-ways in broad-daylight, verbally abusing members of the public, chanting sectarian songs, smashing glass and dropping litter everywhere.”

Buying as much lager as they could get their hands on, thousands of them were hammered by lunch time, and the game was due to kick off at 8pm. By late afternoon, the gates to the Piccadilly Gardens fanzone were forced, and large numbers of fans were jumping up and down on the roofs of sales units, throwing bottles and scrapping – forcing frightened staff to flee.

Then, just before the game kicked off, the screen in the Piccadilly fanzone failed, and all hell broke loose.

Technicians were brought in to try to fix the fault but were attacked with bottles and had to withdraw. The screen’s signal had gone and so they decided to display the words “Go to the Velodrome” on there instead.

The only problem was that the vast majority of the 25,000 Rangers fans in Piccadilly didn’t know where the Velodrome was, and considering it was about 10 minutes until kick off – there’s no way they’d get there in time.

The chair of the Manchester Police Federation later claimed that the screen was deliberately switched off, and rumours were circulating that the screen was turned off for health and safety reasons as there were too many people in the fanzone.

So with all the drinking throughout the day, which was actually allowed and sanctioned by the council, and then a failing screen, the city was a tinderbox ready to explode at any minute, and sure enough – it did.

Greater Manchester Police later reported that it was only “a minority of thugs” involved in the violence, with several hundred fans directly involved in the disorder directed towards the police. In total 39 officers were injured, including one incident in which hundreds of fans isolated and attacked a riot officer. A police dog was also injured when it stood on some broken glass – poor boi.

Hundreds of extra riot police were drafted in as the night continued, and by 9pm 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”.

I myself had been working at The Trafford Centre until 10pm, and returned to the city to find absolute carnage on Market Street. My bus had come to a complete standstill round near the Palace Theatre, so I got off and walked through town to get to my flat in the Green Quarter.

Arriving at Piccadilly Gardens was a massive shock – with litter absolutely everywhere, and hundreds of pissed up blokes just milling about, dancing and generally being annoying. It’s at this point where I saw a fella walking past Primark with a crate of beers on his shoulder, just casually having a piss as he walked.

Further down Market Street there was a massive group of fans underneath the Arndale Food Hall and they were all going ape shit outside Boots, banging on and kicking in the shutters for some reason.

It was absolute madness, the streets were filthy, it stunk and there were random scuffles breaking out all over the place.

The morning after and the city was still in a massive state, with clean up efforts taking place well into the afternoon. It was then that fingers started getting pointed.

There was criticism from supporters regarding the organisation of the event, there was criticism towards the fans, towards the police for using “heavy-handed” tactics, and pretty much everyone else who was involved in the event and its planning.

In total 39 fans were arrested for various offences and the following year thirteen fans appeared in Manchester magistrates court charged with violent disorder – with eleven of them being given prison sentences varying from six months to three and a half years.

Who’s to blame for it all? Well, nobody really. And everybody. It was a combination of lots of different factors, and I suppose if you HAD to blame someone, it should be the Council for inviting the fans to the city in the first place.

The city has never full recovered from the whole debacle, especially with regard to hosting large sporting events. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever see a big screen on the streets of Manchester again, as the bad taste left over from 24 hours of carnage at the hands of Rangers fans still lingers in many people’s minds.

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