I predict a riot

Walking through town is quite scary/And not very sensible either…

Kaiser Chiefs, ‘I Predict A Riot’

Being a total physical coward, I was nowhere near the city centre last night and so didn’t witness the carnage. But although I live on the Manchester/Salford border, I could still hear the dull roar and the car horns beat out in football tattoo… and, at night, the crunch of police rotors.

Check out the Evening News and Manchester Confidential, especially the comments, for tales of people being drunk by dawn, women shitting on station platforms, guys openly doing cocaine on Spear Street, racist and sectarian chanting, smashed windows, people sleeping on streets and in cars, businesses closing early, transport shut down, ambulances on police escort and cops clashing with Rangers fans.

To be honest I don’t think the council or the police planned this badly – if 150,000 to 200,000 heavily fortified men and women descend on your city, there are going to be problems no matter how well you are prepared.

The only query I’d have would be the street drinking law – generally people having a glass of wine in parks or a pint in a square are asked to take their bevvy inside or lose it: yet Rangers fans seem to have been allowed to buy shedloads of booze and drink it anywhere because this is making millions for the city.

Just think, only the other day I said to someone, with a blase flourish, that football violence was overestimated. I have read about the big firms in the 1980s and 1990s with their own business cards and special trains. Nowadays, though, the English game is too policed and corporatised to give them free rein. You wouldn’t see scenes like yesterday’s with a Manchester-Liverpool final or even a City-United derby. (Mind you… I worked at a club in Sheffield on a couple of derby days; the local firms are still quite active up there and we had to recruit special bouncers – one guy was almost a gigantic cube of flesh – to man the doors.)

It seems to be Scottish fixtures that inspire this mixture of violence and carnival. I’m not tapping into any romantic stereotypes of the hot-blooded Celts here. I just think the Scottish game has so much more sectarian and mythological investment in it, handed down through generations, and so fans tend to have more of an emotional commitment to the side. (For a great fictional look at this see the novels of Irvine Welsh: Marabou Stork Nightmares for studies of Scottish casuals and Porno for an ingenious plot device in which Sick Boy fleeces hundreds of Rangers fans’ bank accounts by figuring out that many will have a 1690 pin number. ‘It’s a scam that will rip off their children, and their children’s children,’ he gloats.)

As Confidential editor Jonathan Schofield says:

The reason for the numbers who arrived lies in the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers: a rivalry spiked by hideous sectarianism. This leads the fans of both teams to develop a hyper-loyalty, a desire to out-do each other in terms of support. In that mindset, when you can demonstrate your passion overland 200 miles away, rather than via air 1000 miles distant, you take advantage. And even given that the numbers were extraordinary.

He also paints a vivid picture of the city yesterday:

Several Manchester alleyways especially around the fan zones in Piccadilly, Albert Square and Cathedral Gardens turned into rivers. And it wasn’t just urine that was being deposited. Some of the scenes were vile, some of the scenes were hell. By 6pm there was a form of anarchy on the streets. Manchester was under occupation by an army without leadership. This writer saw two big strong women walk into the Wetherspoons on Piccadilly pick up chairs and then wander out with them through the crowds into the central area of the Gardens. One was then sick on a stool they’d stolen earlier. Three people were slumped unconscious with drink. The pavements were carpeted with filth.

I know nothing about football – and this will probably be my first and last post on any sport.

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