Painful memories and high security for Rangers in Manchester

MANCHESTER - Police will beef up security for Tuesday's Champions League match between Manchester United and Rangers with some residents fearing a repeat of the violence that shook the English city in 2008.

The UEFA Cup final between Rangers and Zenit St Petersburg in Manchester two years ago is best remembered for the scenes of rioting and mounds of rubbish in the city centre.

"That still does evoke some very painful memories for people in Greater Manchester and for genuine Rangers fans," assistant chief constable Ian Hopkins told Reuters on Friday outside the Greater Manchester Police headquarters near Old Trafford.

"This is a very different set of circumstances, a Champions League group stage match, it's the first one, it is not a European cup final. There were estimates of up to 150,000 here (in 2008), we are not looking at anything like those numbers."

He said there would be an extra 250 officers on duty on Tuesday and that police were hoping to encourage off-licenses to close at midday to try to stop fans drinking excessively.

Rangers fans with tickets will be taken to Wigan Athletic's ground before the game and will only be given their match tickets on the bus from there to Old Trafford.

Police said the measures were aimed at reassuring locals and fans but some residents were not convinced there would not be more trouble, which in 2008 followed the power failure of a big screen in the city centre shortly after kickoff.

"I expect the place will get trashed," said Micah Purnell, who works in a restaurant overlooking Piccadilly Gardens, where the lush grass became a sea of bottles and cans two years ago.

"It smelled of urine and beer for three days, everywhere within 500 metres of Piccadilly Gardens."

Colleague Natalie Fox agreed, saying: "I'm hoping I'm not working. Last time there was nearly a fight in the restaurant. People came in like zombies, they were so drunk. I came in at 5pm and an hour later I was out the building, it was that bad."

Rangers supporters clubs, who see the match as a chance to put the events of 2008 behind them, have advised ticketless fans to stay at home since there will be no big screens to watch the game on but also warned against police heavy-handedness.

"I think it's a bit draconian," John Macmillan, general secretary of the Rangers Supporters Association, said of the policing plans. "It's unfortunate that this has to happen but I have sympathy for both points of view.

"If there is any trouble here again then Rangers could be in serious danger of being heavily punished by UEFA and that is something the club just cannot afford to happen."

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