MANCHESTER'S TRIUMPH: Wild night but just one arrest

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS OF bleary-eyed Manchester United fans began arriving home from Barcelona yesterday, flocking first to an all-night jamboree in the city streets as the reality of their team's achievement sank in.

Three fans shinned up Prince Albert's statue in the city centre but could not get down. They were left clutching Prince Albert's coat-tails until one called the fire brigade on a mobile. Becky Cathcart, one of the revellers, said of her footballing heroes: "I still can't believe it. They were all men of the match.". Ms Cathcart, from Denton, Greater Manchester, admitted having given up all hope, like everyone else.

Fans also made Barcelona a sea of red elation as 30,000 danced though the night. The British consul reported just one arrest. Vanguardia newspaper said: "Problems? Not one. They are ugly - but they are good people."

Some 15.5 million in Britain tuned in to the match - one in four of the population. Tony Blair watched part of it on television and delivered his customary commentary: "The whole country, whatever team they support, is absolutely thrilled," he said. Tony Banks, Minister for Sport, backed calls for the United manager, Alex Ferguson, to be knighted.

Even the normally frugal Rod Stewart arrived at a dinner with a new girlfriend and a wad of notes he had won betting on the team. The Greenalls chain said beer sales trebled in many of its pubs. At the Swan in Wilmslow, 4,500 pints were served on Wednesday night.

Anticipation of the players' return brought business to a halt in Manchester. Some workers were told to leave at 2.30pm. "Don't be afraid," said a radio broadcaster. "Treat it as practice for the millennium. The fans may look threatening but they are not going to hurt you."

Souvenir-sellers found themselves parting with anything if it was red or resembled football silverware. The pounds 2 red and white "fluffy worms" on a stick were right up there with the inflatable pounds 6 European Cups ("United, champions" hastily scribbled on them) and Bart Simpson Wembley scarves.

A negative note was sounded by United followers angry about alleged harassment by Spanish police before and after the game. "Baton-wielding Spanish police on horseback waded into United fans as they queued up ... with minutes to go," reported the Manchester Evening News.

Inevitably perhaps, the only corner of Britain not awash in euphoria was Maine Road, home of the Reds' neighbours, Manchester City. There, tickets for a Wembley play-off final on Sunday that the team must win to escape the Second Division were occupying every mind. "They only released 3,000 this week and people were angry. We had to call the police in," said a steward. "Don't talk to me about Barcelona."