Manchester faithful get to paint the city red

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The Independent Online

In The Old Grapes pub in Manchester city centre, John Paul Hooper was drenched in sweat and had a tear in his eye "This is incredible," he said. "I have never seen anything like it." 10 minutes before, the 25-year-old Manchester United diehard could not bear to watch as his team stood a penalty kick away from a Champions League defeat.

Two Chelsea misses later, John Paul was being swept away in a sea of bodies as thousands of United fans kicked off a party that will go on for days in Manchester. "I'd honestly say this is better than when we won it in 1999, to beat an English team in the final makes it so special." He was one of thousands who had packed into Manchester's pubs and bars to watch their side attempt to win football's biggest prize for the third time. The party atmosphere had started earlier in the day as thousands of fans across the city centre filled the pubs hours before kick-off.

Decked in red and white, they seemed to have gathered outside almost every bar in the city, drinking beer and singing songs in the sunshine. The mood was one of expectancy. In The Old Grapes, in Little Quay Street, supporters were crammed inside. It was wall to wall United fans, only the bravest of Chelsea fans would dared have entered, but none did.

The fans were well oiled with lager and in good voice. Leading up to kick-off they had worked through a noisy repertoire of chants and songs. The biggest cheers were reserved for the appearance on screen of the manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, and for Paul Scholes, who missed the 1999 final through suspension.

As well as lauding their own players, United's fans also sang songs mocking rivals Liverpool and Leeds and the city of Manchester's newest enemy – Rangers. It was, after all, the Scottish side's own supporters who last week ran amok on the streets of Manchester in scenes which alarmed the council so much they cancelled plans to show last night's match on giant screens in the city centre. "If you all hate Rangers clap your hands," was the chant.

The atmosphere was intensified as the teams took to the pitch. Every touch from a United player was greeted with a cheer in Moscow and a song back here in Manchester. As expected, Chelsea players were booed every time they appeared on screen.

Five minutes into the game, however, with throngs of United supporters still rushing back from the bar, the first moment of worry for the fans in the Grapes came not on the pitch, but from behind the bar. With all eyes fixed firmly on the televisions, the screens here changed from football to horse racing after a member of staff accidentally switched channels.

Normal service was soon resumed on the screens and, just 26 minutes later, on the pitch too. Cristiano Ronaldo, United's Portuguese talisman, sent a header into the corner of the net and hundreds of fans in Moscow and Manchester into raptures. The Grapes erupted and the pub was seemingly raining beer as grown men hugged and cheered with complete strangers.

The singing continued in full voice until just before the break when the unthinkable happened and Chelsea equalised. Suddenly the room, which was rocking just minutes before, was now deadly silent. But the noise soon started up again, this time in the form of abuse directed at the Chelsea players celebrating on the screen in front of them.

With little from their own team to cheer about in the second half, the loudest roars went up when their striker, Didier Drogba, was sent off. Then the atmosphere turned tense as everyone inside the oak-panelled pub realised the game would be settled in football's cruellest fashion – on penalties. The celebration that greeted every successful United kick was replaced by silence as Chelsea players continually found the net. Until, that was, when Nicolas Anelka saw his kick parried by Edwin van der Sar and the party in Manchester could finally begin.

As tables and chairs were toppled and thrown around him, John Paul said: "Over the whole game I think it is fair to say we deserved to win. I do feel sorry for Chelsea as they did work hard and it's never nice to lose in a final, but in the end I think we wanted it more."

Just minutes after the final whistle the pub which had been wall-to-wall with United fans was empty.

While the fans lucky enough to have been at the game in Russia headed to Moscow's Red Square, those who stayed in Manchester headed for their own equivalent, Albert Square. "I think this party will go on for days," added John Paul. "I know it will for me anyway."

The final in numbers

42,000 The number of British fans of both teams who travelled to Moscow for the final.

7,000 Riot police on duty in the Russian capital for last night's match.

30 The number of gold medals distributed to the winning team.

72 The number of hours supporters with match tickets can stay in the country under its relaxed visa rules.

15m The number of viewers ITV expected to attract for its live coverage if the match.

69,000 The match capacity of Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.

759 The number of appearances Ryan Giggs has made for Manchester United, as he beat Sir Bobby Charlton's club record last night.2-1The score when Chelsea defeated Manchester United in the Premiership at Stamford Bridge last month.

100 The number of Sky TV crew members broadcasting live coverage of the match.