Manchester City Council

Tolerance and Trust

I planned to blog today on the street parties and the carnival atmosphere of the UEFA Cup Final as well as my training for Sunday's Great Manchester 10 kilometre run, the next extravaganza in Manchester's World of Sport 08. And it's true that tens of thousands of people did indeed have a good experience thanks to UEFA. The sun shone, the vast majority of fans enjoyed a few (many) drinks, an atmosphere of anticipation and the prospect of their club picking up one of soccer's top trophies.

We witnessed the biggest one-day migration into any city ever seen. A number of people have asked why did we invite them, why did we allow them in? Firstly, they would have come, invited or not, and secondly, we are thankfully living in a country that does allow its citizens freedom of movement. Invited or not, it is a Manchester principle that we welcome visitors to our city.

But sadly, the appalling behaviour of an irresponsible minority spoiled the moment. I can't blog today without passing comment on that disgraceful thuggery. And on the tolerance and trust shown willingly by Manchester yet abused by those hooligans.

There is absolutely no excuse for anyone - no matter how upset - to throw missiles, to use glass bottles as weapons, to attack police and ambulance staff and to vandalise property. Football hooliganism is not a new phenomenon but let's be clear - these people are not football fans - they are criminals; police must deter them and public order must be maintained.

Media coverage showed Manchester looking horrific last night.  But media focussed on only a tiny proportion of the city's activities.  I personally walked through our city from the stadium to the city centre, and then around Piccadilly to see for myself exactly what was happening. I was speaking on my mobile phone to police officers and colleagues in Silver Control, the nerve centre of the policing operation, and I knew the devastation that was being wreaked in small pockets of our urban core.

But it is my personal experience of those hours, that overwhelmingly; Rangers fans were good-humoured, peaceful and quite simply miserable.

 They were downcast, their team had lost and they were looking for consolation and camaraderie. They weren't looking for trouble.  I felt no sense of fear or hostility as I moved among them, just of sadness and disappointment that their team had failed to grasp the trophy. I feel empathy for those Rangers fans - they had passionately wanted to celebrate their club's biggest day for 36 years and it had vanished with two goals from Zenit. They wanted solace and they wanted soul mates, and I'd be happy to welcome them again any time to our city.

They too, like all right-minded people, were shocked by the minority of law-breakers, criminals who wanted destruction and despoliation. Well-behaved, good natured visitors who flooded into Manchester from all points of the globe to support their club with a passion that is powerful to behold have, like me, no empathy for the criminals who turned their cruelty against our city and our residents.

Manchester and its people welcomed the UEFA Cup final with the warmth, tolerance and trust that they put in all our major events which bring so much benefit to our city but that trust has been abused by the criminal minority. It's not the first time we have had similar problems with showing football on a big screen in the city centre. We had terrible problems when we attempted to show an England World Cup game in Exchange Square and we cannot take the risk of showing next week's game in open spaces where we don't know how many people are going to turn up and where controlling the numbers is next to impossible.

So with regret for all the United fans who hopefully will be celebrating next Wednesday night, we and our partners, on the strong advice of Greater Manchester Police, have decided it's not appropriate that big screens should be put in Manchester's public open spaces. Our residents, businesses and city centre users should not be expected to tolerate the risk of disruption, no matter how much benefit the major event would bring.

However, it's a different matter for a big screen to be in a managed venue or even in Old Trafford. Of course many supporters who can't get to Moscow, with or without tickets, will want to watch the game together just as 25,000 fans watched Rangers on Wednesday night at Ibrox and what better place than the home of MUFC. In fact we'd welcome that with open arms. MUFC, over to you....more on this tomorrow. And I will keep my promise to update you on my training for that run.

Finally, a quick word on Council staff, who along with colleagues from Tameside and Salford, managed to clean up our city centre in hours. A real performance!

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The blog of the leader of Manchester City Council, Councillor Richard Leese.

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