Rangers fans plan to paint town blue as tickets sell for thousands

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GLASGOW is expecting a bumper delivery of Tennent's, Manchester has sold out of hotel rooms and Ibrox has rented Europe's biggest TV screen: the scene is set for Rangers' greatest football match in 36 years.

More than 100,000 Gers fans are set to follow their team to the City of Manchester Stadium, where Rangers will take on Zenit St Petersburg in the Uefa Cup final.

Another 25,000 people are set to enjoy the big game live on a massive 100 square metre screen inside Rangers' Ibrox Stadium, which is hosting a free party. The centre of Glasgow, and communities across Scotland, are also getting ready to celebrate (or commiserate) with Rangers, as bars order hundreds of extra kegs of beer and expect to be full to bursting by 2pm, six hours before kick-off.

And even Manchester, after an initially frosty response, is ready to welcome thousands of Rangers fans to the "football mad" city, where they will party before, during and after the game on Wednesday night.

Scottish legend Joe Jordan, who played for Scotland and Manchester United in the Seventies and early Eighties, said: "Glasgow and Manchester are similar in that they are both football cities with two main teams with a healthy rivalry.

"They are a people who love their football, and it will be fantastic in Manchester on Wednesday. Rangers will have great support, and there are lots of fans from both teams, which makes for a good build-up."

The city is setting up a fan zone in Albert Square where Rangers supporters without tickets can enjoy the game live on a big screen, with live entertainment before and after the match. With just 13,000 of the fans holding tickets for the stadium, the fan zone promises to be the true heart of the Rangers party in Manchester.

President of Rangers Supporters Assembly, Jim Templeton, said: "We are all planning to go down there for a couple of days. The Rangers club is in four or five different hotels in Manchester, so we will take over a bit I should think. I'm looking forward to a really good atmosphere."

Police in Manchester initially asked fans without tickets to stay away but have changed their mind in the past week.

Tommy Docherty, who played for Scotland and managed Manchester United, said: "Manchester is a great city and the centre is only about four or five miles away from the ground. There is plenty to do before and after the game – beautiful restaurants and beautiful places to visit.

"I just think it will be chaos on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and before and after there will be a party atmosphere. It will be a party of joy if they win, and they will still party even if they lose."

In a cheeky dig at his former rivals, Docherty added: "The Manchester City team isn't doing very well at the moment so they could do with some good football to entertain them."

So many fans are keen to join in Manchester's celebration that hotels in the city and Greater Manchester are all full up. Advisers at VisitManchester are recommending hotels in Blackpool, 52 miles away, as the most convenient. More than 2,000 Scots have already booked into Blackpool's hotels, many combining the match with a few days in the holiday resort.

Football supporters will dominate the planes, trains and roads between Glasgow and Manchester on Wednesday as a third of flights between the cities have completely sold out.

Virgin Trains will also be packed with Rangers shirts between Glasgow and Preston, where Manchester passengers will change trains, throughout Tuesday and Wednesday.

Dedicated fans from all over the world are also making the pilgrimage to Manchester.

Electronics engineer Chris Thorburn bought a plane ticket from his home in Auckland in New Zealand to Manchester after seeing Rangers score the winning penalty against Fiorentina in the semi-final.

"I'm hearing good things about Manchester," he said. "I'm hoping it will be a real carnival atmosphere. There's no reason why this couldn't be a great Rangers party, hopefully with a great result."

More than 80 members of the Oceania Rangers Supporters Assembly (ORSA) – covering Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong – have bought flights to Manchester to watch their team compete in their first Uefa Cup final in 36 years. A handful of diehard fans from Singapore were so confident in Rangers' success that they booked flights and bought tickets to the game before the team even secured their place in the final.

Neil Fentie, who lives in Singapore, was so elated when Rangers beat Sporting Lisbon in the Uefa quarter finals on April 10 that he spent 7,000 on 10 corporate tickets to the final, persuading nine friends to buy business-class return flights to Manchester costing 2,500 each to see the game.

Fans from Hong Kong travelling back to Britain will be led by Scott Semple, son of former Rangers player Billy Semple. "It's a flying visit but this is the first European final in my lifetime, so there was no way I was going to miss it," he said. "Some have tickets and some do not, but we are willing to take our chances."

Rangers fans who stay in Glasgow will flock to the Ibrox stadium, which is throwing open its doors for a free party for 25,000 supporters who will watch the game live on a 100 square metre television screen.

The city centre will also be a sea of blue, white and red as pubs open their doors and stock up their cellars for the game. Rangers' home shirts have been flying off the shelves in their thousands since the team got through to the final 10 days ago, and some bars will allow fans to wear their colours with pride.

Claire Nelson, from the Sports Caf in Sauchiehall Street, said: "For one day only fans will be allowed to wear their shirts in the pub, so we hope Rangers supporters will come down and party with us.

"People are taking the day off work, so we expect to be busy and queuing from early. We've ordered 150 extra kegs of beer."

Win or lose, the Rangers players will continue the party with an open-top bus parade through the Southside streets of Glasgow on Friday. Fans will have a chance to congratulate or commiserate the team, depending on the result, as they travel from Springfield Quay to the Ibrox Stadium.

Celebrations on match night will also take place around the world, from Hong Kong to Melbourne, as members of ORSA show their support for the Gers, despite time differences putting the game at between 2am and 4am local time.

The only pubs likely to be deserted on Wednesday night are Glasgow's Celtic pubs. "We're not expecting many people," said Maureen Macnamara, barmaid at McNeill's Bar in Torrisdale Street. "And those that do come will probably be supporting the Russians."

Police warn Zenit hooligans over match trouble

ZENIT St Petersburg fans have been warned that incidents of racism or hooliganism will meet a zero-tolerance approach from police.

It follows ugly incidents in games in early rounds of the Uefa Cup and also a series of violent encounters with rival supporters during the team's domestic campaign. Despite 100,000 Rangers followers being expected to descend on Manchester for Wednesday night's game, it is their opponents who pose the biggest security risk to the authorities.

And after Zenit supporters hung a toy monkey dressed in an opponent's kit from their section of the ground and used it to taunt opposition black players, the authorities in England have warned no such behaviour will be tolerated during the final. On Wednesday night, Rangers will almost certainly have at least three targets for racist fans in their squad: Frenchman Jean-Claude Darcheville; Brahim Hemdani, a French-born Algerian; as well as Daniel Cousin, who is French-Gabonese.

Chief Superintendent Gerry Donnellan of Greater Manchester Police (GMP), match commander for the final, told Scotland on Sunday: "My advice to all the fans who are coming to Manchester is simple: if something is not allowed at games in Scotland or Russia, then it is not allowed in England.

"Fans know what they can and cannot do. All I will say is: take a sensible approach and enjoy your day."

He added that there would be a "zero tolerance" approach towards racist chanting and abuse as well as sectarianism.

Spanish police were forced to baton-charge Zenit fans during their visit to Villareal's El Madrigal stadium last February. And the following month there were similar scenes in France when the Russians travelled to Marseilles and riot officers had to be deployed to restore order in the away section of the ground.

Video footage of both incidents has been posted on video-sharing sites such as YouTube along with several clashes with rival Russian sides.

In one, Zenit's hard-core hooligans – known as the Gremlins or the Nevsky Front – are involved in a brutal clash with rivals Spartak Moscow.

With almost militaristic precision, the two groups, dressed respectively in blue and red T-shirts, march towards each other in a suburban car park before battling with fists, feet and metal bars as well as hurling numerous phosphorous flares.

Said one British police insider: "Zenit are bringing between 9,000 and 14,000 supporters with them, depending on who you listen to, but unlike Rangers this mob has a very unpleasant, albeit small but significant, number of serious hooligans.

"They are organised and regimented, and many have extreme far-right views and are not too concerned about voicing them either inside or outside the stadium."

Whilst Strathclyde Police say they are not expecting trouble at the game, they have taken extensive precautions to prevent it.

The force's 'spotters', whose role it is to identify and monitor known hooligans, have spent weeks updating their intelligence on potential suspects by liaising with their colleagues from other Scottish forces.

They will not just be operating in Manchester city centre, but also at motorway service stations, railway stations and airport terminals in a bid to identify suspects.

The Strathclyde officers will be backed up by around 30 colleagues from Russia who are travelling over with the Zenit fans in order to identify as many troublemakers as possible and point them out to the English authorities.

Donnellan declined to release precise details of how many officers will be on duty on the day of the final. However, he stressed he was happy his force would be able to deal with any situation which arose.

But Scotland on Sunday has learned that GMP has implemented the so-called Mutual Aid Agreement by which manpower and equipment can be 'borrowed' from neighbouring forces to supplement existing numbers.

Amongst the additional officers being drafted in are up to 210 officers from Merseyside Police, including members of their Matrix Unit, the specialist Swat-style team widely used during the recent arrests of the Rhys Jones murder suspects.

One senior Merseyside officer said: "We are sending up to 10 Police Support Units (PSUs), each of which consists of an inspector, two sergeants and 18 constables. And, just as Lancashire Police is doing in Blackpool, here in Liverpool we will be putting additional officers on the streets of the city centre, as we expect an influx of Rangers fans who cannot get tickets for the game."

Rangers' chief security officer Kenny Scott said that in the previous 18 European away games which the club had played this season there had not been a single arrest.

My hopes of finding elusive 'golden ticket' melt quicker than a Willy Wonka chocolate bar


AS A dyed-in-the-wool (insert your own sheep joke here) Aberdeen fan, being asked to track down a Uefa Cup final ticket for the Rangers end was not exactly a dream job.

In fact, the prospect of cheering on our bitter rivals in Manchester is about as appealing as being asked to tidy Amy Winehouse's flat – after she's enjoyed a quiet night in with Pete Doherty, Keith Richards and Shane MacGowan.

Nevertheless, in the interests of investigative journalism, I put my petty prejudices to one side and threw myself into the task of securing the football equivalent of Willy Wonka's golden ticket.

The first signs were not encouraging. A footballing contact informed me that even Hugh Grant had tried – and failed – to get a ticket for the showdown with Zenit St Petersburg.

Once over the shock that the Four Weddings And A Funeral Star is a closet Gers fan – infinitely more embarrassing, in my opinion, than his liaison with Divine Brown – I realised I was up against it.

If a smooth-talking, multi-millionaire, international movie superstar could not pull strings then what chance did I have, particularly when the brief was to get them for as near to the face value of 75 as possible? In desperation, I phoned Rangers' famous ground and attempted to ape Grant's trademark stammering, public-school toff tones. "Could I possibly...erm...you know...get a ticket?"

Love was clearly not all around and my request was politely declined, long before I got the chance to ask to speak to club chairman David Murray.

Undeterred, I tried my luck at Glasgow's most famous bluenose watering hole, The Louden Tavern, whose outside sign bills it modestly as "The Greatest Pub in the World".

Owner Alice Marshall was sympathetic, but unable to oblige. She said: "Everyone and their dog is looking for tickets just now.

"A lot of our regulars weren't able to get hold of any and we've seen a lot of disappointed faces recently.The tickets that are out there are changing hands for obscene prices.

"We had a guy offering three tickets for 1,000 each, but I have heard of people buying them for 1,700."

A quick check online confirms she is not far wrong. Tickets that retail for less than 100 are changing hands on websites for as much as 1,500.

Punters attempting to get round eBay's ban on selling tickets are simply auctioning Rangers scarves and key-rings – which just so happen to have free match tickets included in the deal.

The most basic seats are selling for 881 a time, with deluxe hospitality tickets retailing at a jaw-dropping 1,562.50.

Time to think big. I called Uefa's HQ in Switzerland. My plea went down worse than the idea of Marilyn Manson representing the Alpine nation in the Eurovision Song Contest.

After gaining nul points and no tickets, I was swiftly wished auf wiedersehen, au revoir and goodbye.

In the spirit of Glasnost, post-Cold War reconciliation and abject desperation, I then called the Russian consulate in Edinburgh and steeled myself to make an emotional, comradely appeal for assistance.

Sadly Consul General Vladimir Malygin wasn't available and I toyed with the idea of going straight to the Kremlin.

Realising that new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev might not see the funny side – and not wishing to have to be on the lookout for greenish-glowing teapots – I decided to give it a miss.

Instead, I had a chat with Sergei Kotcherine, the genial owner of the newly opened St Petersburg Russian Restaurant, which is located conveniently close to the City of Manchester Stadium.

If the Zenit St Petersburg fanatic is peeved by my request, he is polite enough not to show it.

"You are not the first person to ask me for tickets," he laughed. "I have had so many Scottish fans on the phone this week. It has been unbelievable."

Kotcherine will only say that he obtained his match ticket as a surprise present from "friends back in Russia" but, by way of consolation, issued an invitation to myself and other ticketless fans.

"We are going to have a big party here on Wednesday with Russians and Scots.

"The only downside is that you are going to be disappointed by the score."