Manchester United's champions of Europe arrived home last night – but were denied the open-topped bus tour their fans wanted.
Sir Alex Ferguson and his players landed at Manchester airport 22 hours after beating Chelsea in a thrilling penalty shoot-out in the Champions League final in Moscow. But fans were angered by a decision to outlaw a public celebration of their victory.
The city council said it would be too dangerous to allow supporters to take to the streets after Glasgow Rangers fans rampaged through the city centre following their team's Uefa Cup final defeat last week.
Sir Alex and his squad made a last-minute plea to be allowed to hold a traditional bus tour of the city but were turned down. Dave Thompson, Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, said a parade would pose an unacceptable threat to public safety.
"It is right and fitting that United fans should have the chance to celebrate the club's success this year but they should do this in safety," he added. "The last major homecoming event was in 1999, when there were serious issues raised about the risks of crowd crush. Man United is the biggest football club in the world and we believe any event would attract more people than in 1999. We have agreed to work towards an event in the summer where those celebrations could take place in safety."
A disappointed United fan, Dave Wilson, told the BBC: "The real football fans have lost out to hooligans again. A victory parade weeks after the event is a non-event."
Nemanja Vidic, the United defender, said: "This is a good moment to celebrate with fans and to say thank you to them for what they have done for us this year. To be honest, we are a little bit disappointed about this."
Writing in his blog, the Manchester City Council leader, Sir Richard Leese, said the authority had made clear that it was a decision for the football club and the police. He added: "If Manchester United want a parade, then we are quite happy to do our bit. We will have to close roads, put up some barriers and clean up afterwards... but there are plenty of wide roads for a parade and it's not a major problem for us."
The aftermath of the final did present police with some problems, although in London, not Manchester. About half an hour after the final whistle, riot police were called in as drunken Chelsea fans spilt out of pubs near the club's Stamford Bridge ground in Fulham Broadway. Violent clashes took place for about an hour and dozens of people were arrested for public order offences. Fourteen were treated in hospital for injuries.
It was a different story in the Russian capital, where 42,000 British fans watched the final at Moscow's Luzhniki stadium on Wednesday night. The 7,000 police on duty were praised for their handling of the event, with virtually no crowd trouble reported.