Manchester armada of 100,000 fans hits Spain

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The Independent Online
THE BIGGEST exodus of football fans to leave British shores was flooding into Barcelona last night, 24 hours before the European Champions League final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich will be played.

Police sources in Manchester put the number of United supporters travelling as high as 100,000, more than three times the number of tickets available to the club. Barcelona's 100,000-capacity Nou Camp stadium has been sold out for the final, with the two finalists getting 30,000 tickets each. Tickets for tonight's game have been changing hands for as much as pounds 1,000 on the black market.

A spokesman at Manchester airport said: "We expect to handle 33,000 fans on 225 flights with the busiest day being Thursday, when they all return." The spokesman said that the airport was a "mass of red" yesterday as supporters took charter flights to Spain.

Barcelona, currently heaving with holidaymakers, will today look more like Cold War Berlin, as police are to split the city into British and German zones to keep fans apart. Separate routes to the stadium are to be allocated and road blocks set up to create the zones. This action is part of an international police operation to prevent any serious outbreak of hooliganism. Police intelligence officers said yesterday they have identified 500 Manchester United fans who could cause them trouble. A further 300 Bayern Munich supporters are on the list of hooligans.

Barcelona is to draft in 2,000 riot police today, with 6,000 police on special duty. Though official estimates have put the United contingent in Spain at 55,000, a Manchester police source yesterday said the figure was closer to 100,000. Some 37,000 Bayern Munich fans are expected to turn up.

Manchester United's worldwide support makes it a notoriously difficult club to police and fans were expected in Barcelona from all over the world. The game has been given a "high risk" classification because of the violent reputations of some British and German fans and because of the number of ticketless fans. The city's heat will not help policing and, privately, officers are concerned about the desperate hunt for tickets. Forgeries are known to be circulating.

Fans are scattered along the Costa Dorada and Costa Brava in resorts such as Reus, Salou and Lloret de Mar since Barcelona's hotels are packed to capacity. The authorities are anxious about friction in these resorts as many hoteliers have ignored police requests to rent rooms to either British or German fans, but not both.

Superintendent Alan Hutchings of Greater Manchester Police said "a small number of fans may cause trouble" and that ticketing problems were inevitable. The worst troublemakers eschew Manchester United's colours and their habit of dressing in designer clothing has led them to be known by police as "the casuals".

Whether they win or lose in Spain tonight, United will hold a celebratory parade through the streets of Manchester in an open-top bus, the club said yesterday. Its display of the FA Cup and the Premiership trophy had been called off after a disagreement over who would have to pay but after meetings with Trafford and Manchester City Council leaders the club has decided a parade will go ahead tomorrow evening.