Page last updated at 18:32 GMT, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 19:32 UK

Rangers fans invade city centre

Rangers fans gather in Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester city centre

Manchester city centre is awash with a sea of blue as tens of thousands of Rangers fans gather ahead of the Uefa Cup final.

They are mingling with a smaller number of supporters of Russia's Zenit St Petersburg to await the match.

Up to 100,000 fans from both sides are in the city and they are expected to give a 20m boost to the local economy.

Eight people have been arrested during the policing operation but the force said fans were "largely well behaved".

Two arrests have been for common assault, one for possession of an offensive weapon, one for theft, one for possession of drugs and two for public order offences.

Trams have been temporarily suspended in the city centre because of the high number of fans on the streets.

Services are running from Victoria to Bury and from G-Mex to Altrincham and Eccles.

The City of Manchester stadium is to host about 47,000 football fans for the final.

Just 13,000 Rangers fans were allocated official tickets, so thousands more will watch the match on big screens in the city's pubs and bars.

Commuters arriving on Wednesday morning were greeted by the sight of thousands of blue-shirted fans in Piccadilly Gardens - determined to savour the team's first appearance in a European final for 36 years.

I think we might find a few more than 100,000 coming down
Jim Templeton, Rangers Assembly

The singing and drinking started early, with supporters staking their claims for places in front of the screens in Fan Zones at Albert Square, Piccadilly Gardens and Cathedral Gardens.

The zones also boast beer tents, toilets and programme sellers.

Jim Templeton, 56, from Ayrshire, the president of the Rangers Assembly, said: "The atmosphere among Rangers supporters is absolutely phenomenal."

"I was fortunate enough to be there in 1972, there's others who have never witnessed Rangers in a European final, it's a shame they can't all be accommodated," he added

Although the majority travelled down from Glasgow, some fans arrived in Manchester from all over the world.

Rangers fans start the party in central Manchester ahead of the Uefa Cup final

Gary Brisbane, 32, and Ray Newall, both originally from Scotland, made a 24,000-mile round trip from Melbourne, Australia.

Mr Brisbane said: "Well, it's a long way to come, but it's 36 years since the last time."

Zenit St Petersburg fans said they were not intimidated by the thousands of Rangers fans in the streets and were enjoying the party atmosphere.

Vadim, 32, from St Petersburg said: "We arrived this morning and we leave tonight. There are many Rangers fans here but everyone is very friendly.

"There is only one team in St Petersburg and all 5m people in our city support this team. Manchester is beautiful and the people have been very good to us. We are looking forward to the game."

Greater Manchester Police, who have a huge presence in the city centre, warned roads into the city were extremely busy.

From l to r, Vadim, 32,  Konstantin, 35, Yura 33
Zenit St Petersburg fans said they were enjoying the party atmosphere

Police in Glasgow and Manchester have previously issued warnings over counterfeit tickets which could be in circulation.

Officers have also urged people to consume plenty of water and "drink sensibly".

Councillor Pat Karney, city centre spokesman, said the city "had never seen anything like it".

"It's worth 20m to Manchester's economy all this. Millions and millions of people are going to be watching the match, so it's worth it."

Every hotel room in the city and for up to 20 miles beyond - about 45,000 in total - is booked up.

Many fans are expected to camp, sleep rough or spend the night in their cars.

About 3,000 Rangers fans are camping at Burnage Rugby Club, which is about four miles outside the city centre.

Some fans remaining in Glasgow will be able to watch the match on a big screen at Ibrox Stadium.

Capacity for the event is 25,000 and police said it was now full.


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