Bhoys fans benefit from Rangers' visit to Catalonia

Every metro station in Barcelona carries several illuminated posters advertising Manchester. It’s part of an airline promotion and a fine-looking shot of the city makes it look more Lisbon than Lowry in an attempt to persuade Catalans to visit.

Barca fans wouldn’t need any such inducement to go there if their team is paired with Manchester United in Friday’s Champions League quarter-final draw.

Barcelona is just recovering from its invasion by Celtic supporters. Unlike the 21,000 Rangers travelling fans in Catalonia last November, the 12,000 who came to cheer on Celtic have received positive media coverage, despite there being little discernible difference in their behaviour.

What changed is that Celtic fans benefited from Rangers visit. The Catalan authorities were not ready for the number of Rangers supporters who constituted the largest ever following in a European away game for a British club in a non-final match. Rangers fans were short changed by authorities happy to take their money, but unwilling to provide the infrastructure their presence required.

Rangers fans were criticised for urinating in the square at Placa Catalunya. Celtic fans weren’t because scores of portable toilets had been installed.

Unsurprisingly, the numerous Irish bars in Barcelona either closed or employed heavy security for the visit of Rangers. For Celtic fans they issued commemorative t-shirts and stuck up posters of Jimmy Johnstone. A special fan zone was created for the Celtic contingent outside the city centre; Rangers fans faced lines of nervous police.

There were many ironic scenes, such as ‘dangerous’ protestant Rangers fans singing sectarian songs in those Irish bars which did stay open, while ‘friendly’ Celtic fans loudly eulogised the IRA in those same bars months later – not that the Catalans, who view noisy inebriation as weakness and not a virtue, were aware of the nuances of fan culture. Well, apart from those who unfurled a giant Irish tricolour to agitate the Rangers fans.

The sheer size of the travelling support from both clubs was impressive and far, far in excess of what Barca took to either Celtic Park or Ibrox - Barca needed only one plane to Glasgow; Rangers fans arrived on 97 flights for the return game in Catalonia.

Their range of songs was comprehensive and flags from both sets of visiting Glaswegian fans impressive. And given the sheer numbers of visiting fans, both games passed with few arrests and plenty of comic stories. Like the two Celtic fans negotiating with a Catalan tout for tickets. He cheekily asked for €200 a ticket and the alcohol fuelled pair thought about it and came back with their offer…€195.

Not since Alan Partridge bid £324,000 for a house on the market for £325,000 – and whose main selling point was “a Buck Rogers toilet” - has a vendor been so willing.

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