Page last updated at 13:42 GMT, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 14:42 UK

Carnival atmosphere in Manchester

By Colin Moffat
BBC Scotland Sport

Rangers fans in Manchester
Rangers fans congregating in Manchester city centre

Manchester is a football mad city, divided by the Reds and the Blues.

However, for the Uefa Cup final the entire conurbation has been taken over by the visiting red, white and blues following Rangers.

Everywhere you look there is evidence of the invasion from Glasgow.

And the locals are getting into the party spirit as well.

I saw two very respectable elderly ladies dancing a jig with a travelling fan on Oxford Street.

Policemen are patiently posing for photographs and the banner headline on the Manchester Evening News reads a welcoming: "Hullawrerr The Bears".

The newspaper also has a friendly message for the smaller band of supporters from St Petersburg.

Rangers fans in Piccadilly Gardens
The fanzone in Piccadilly Gardens was nearly full on Wednesday morning

By 1100 BST, the dedicated fanzone in Piccadilly Gardens was close to capacity and the temporary bars were doing a brisk trade.

Since glass containers are not permissible, the perimeter fence, draped in a colourful array of banners and flags, is lined with legions of visitors finishing off their carry-outs.

And these guys are well organised.

I spotted several coolboxes brimming with Buckfast.

On stage, a brass section was supplying the music, although the band looked confused by the request "Do you know the bouncy?"

On my way to Piccadilly I met Jimmy McAllister, a Glaswegian who has made Manchester his home for the past 55 years.

'Blood going'

With more than a trace of his hometown accent, he told me: "I was a Rangers fan as a boy.

"This has really got my blood going. All the colour and the smiling faces - it's magic.

"I just hope the team can do it tonight and make it the trip of a lifetime for all these guys."

Rangers followers have been denied a glamorous continental excursion, but the Manchester sunshine adds a nice touch to the carnival atmosphere.

And it's maybe just as well we are not somewhere warmer, since the national dress of the nylon football top, kilt and novelty wig is not best suited to tropical climes.

Rangers fans in Manchester city centre
The Manchester sunshine added to the carnival atmosphere

Russians are thin on the ground by comparison but the Scots have been quick to introduce themselves, particularly to the younger female followers of Zenit.

Over in Albert Square, the second section of the city dedicated to Rangers fans, the scene is similar.

Screens have been erected for the ticketless majority to watch the big match and the world's largest game of keepie-uppie was in full swing.

A huge cheer would go up any time the statues of former civic leaders Oliver Heywood and John Bright got a header.

Five or six footballs were in the air at any one time and they were soaring from a great height, posing a risk for any reveller who wasn't keeping a watchful eye on the sky.

A dunt on the cranium from one of those balls could be quite painful but, win or lose, there are going to be more than a few aching heads on Thursday morning.

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