Red Army begins the journey to Rome

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The Independent Football

All roads lead to Rome today with a red army of 30,000 Manchester United fans beginning the journey to the Eternal City for the Champions League final.

Legions of supporters will set off over the next 24 hours for Wednesday's match, to see Sir Alex Ferguson's all-conquering European and English Champions do battle with the continent's most dangerous side, FC Barcelona.

Only 20,000 United fans have tickets for the game, but another 10,000 were expected to make the journey, despite pleas not to travel without a ticket.

The authorities in Rome were bracing themselves for a similar number of Spanish fans, with fears that the high number of ticketless supporters could lead to trouble before kick-off at the Stadio Olimpico.

In a bid to avoid incidents, city officials have banned the sale of alcohol around the stadium and in airports and stations, from tonight until Thursday morning.

Rome's mayor Gianni Alemanno said: "I have asked (interior) minister Roberto Maroni to have maximum attention from the security officers to avoid any incidents.

"I want to thank them in advance for the work they will carry out.

"To prevent any incidents we have spoken to Rome football fans and asked them to show maximum solidarity."

Manchester Airport brought in extra staff as it geared up for the busiest two days of the year, with 11 scheduled flights to depart today and 30 on Wednesday.

Andrew Cornish, Manchester Airport managing director, said: "We are expecting to be very busy as the fans fly in and out and we will, of course, bring in extra staff to help speed the fans through as efficiently as possible.

"We will be working closely with the airlines over the next days to meet the demand for flights and are committed to making the fans' journey as simple and enjoyable as possible."

Fans were warned by police they had no chance of bunking-in to the Stadio Olimpico without a genuine match ticket, which this year resembles a credit card, with personal details of each ticket holder embedded in a micro-chip in each stub.

Supporters will also have to produce photographic identity to confirm they are the legitimate holder, matching the details on the ticket.

In total, 73 banning orders are in place ensuring convicted hooligans from Manchester have to hand over their passports before the game, with police monitoring UK airports for known trouble-makers.

Recent European games involving United and Barcelona have passed off trouble-free.

But Italian football clubs, especially in Rome, have a number of notorious hooligan gangs, known as Ultras, who it is feared may target travelling fans.

British police have urged United supporters to use a public transport pass for football fans to get to the stadium for free - and not walk to the ground, a route which passes bars known to be haunts of the Ultras.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) have 12 officers on duty in Rome, some in uniform and others in plain clothes acting as hooligan spotters.

Superintendent John Graves, from GMP, who will head co-ordination with Italian police in Rome, said fans would be representing not just Manchester but the UK as a whole and warned them to behave.

"The vast majority of fans are genuine supporters and we want them to have a good night, cheer on the team and enjoy themselves," he said.

"Although GMP officers have no powers of arrest abroad and ultimate responsibility for policing the game lies with the Italian police, we have been gathering intelligence on potential and known troublemakers and GMP officers will be in Rome in an advisory role.

"Supporters should follow the advice being given - do not travel unless you have a legitimately purchased ticket. When travelling to the stadium, use the official transport provided and be mindful of your personal safety.

"We will be closely monitoring those travelling to Rome for the game at the airport and the message couldn't be more clear: anyone who is trying to travel who is either a person subject to a football banning order or a known troublemaker will be identified and punished appropriately.

"We are determined to stop known troublemakers from spoiling the enjoyment of genuine fans.

"I hope fans share my hope that everyone who goes to Rome will behave impeccably.

"Make this a night to remember for all the right reasons and don't travel there to commit violence."

Should United win, a parade through the city of Manchester is planned for Thursday with tens of thousands expected to honour the conquering heroes home.