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Eyewitness in Manchester masthead
Issue number10 Sunday the 23rd of March 1997

The newly renovated Old Wellington Inn
The newly renovated Old Wellington Inn

Two stories dominated the news from Manchester this week: Trouble at the Manchester United vs Oporto game in Portugal, and increasing tension at the 2nd Runway construction site.

Fans flew out on Wednesday for the match, accompanied by Manchester United officials, and advisers from Greater Manchester Police. Prior to the match, no trouble was expected, and fans spent the hours leading up to the game enjoying themselves peacefully.

The difficulties started when they proceeded to the stadium, which they discovered to be in a bad state of repair, and barely able to cope with the large number of spectators. The match itself ended in a nil-nil result, but at some stage, trouble broke out among fans, and the police fired plastic pellets at Manchester United Fans. Several were injured and had to be taken to hospital.

As the first fans started to arrive back at Manchester Airport, there was a feeling that the Portuguese authorities had mishandled the arrangements, that due to its bad condition, the stadium should never have been approved by the international soccer authority, and there were also reports of fans whose tickets turned out to be forged, and who were turned away. Meanwhile, the police in Oporto blamed the Manchester United fans for the violence, and regarded the firing of plastic pellets as legitimate under the circumstances.

Questions and recriminations continue, but according to a Manchester Evening News poll, an overwhelming majority of readers want Manchester United fans to continue attending games on the Continent.

Two other football-related stories: A 20m soccer museum named the "Football Hall of Fame" is to be built in Manchester, opening in 1998. And at Manchester City's Maine Road ground on Saturday, there was a fire under the North Stand. No-one was hurt, but the game was delayed by 35 minutes.

Just as the planes carrying Manchester United fans were taking to the air, confrontation was developing only a couple of hundred yards from the end of the runway between environmental protesters and contractors' officials who had been sent in to secure the site.

Swampy, alias Daniel Hooper, most publicised of the protesters, was arrested early in the week, then released on bail. Another protester was arrested on Saturday for allegedly assaulting a security guard. The Airport authorities apparently plan to remove all protesters from the site within the next couple of weeks, and clear the trees in preparation for construction work.

The Anti-Runway 2 protesters held a "Runway Funday" on Saturday to raise money and increase awareness of environmental issues.

Two more Airport reports were also in the news at the weekend: The 10 local authorities that own the Airport will receive an 11m share dividend, of which the City of Manchester, will receive 6m, and Manchester Airport has been named "Best International Business Airport" by Business Travel World Magazine, beating off competition from Schiphol, Amsterdam and London Heathrow.

Sunny skies, mild temperatures and flowers blooming have brought a Spring-like feel. Colder weather moved in during the middle of the week, but the sky cleared, revealing the Hale-Bopp comet, which viewed from south Manchester, appeared to be hovering directly over the city centre! (Is this an omen?). Later in the week, there was rain, and temperatures were cool.

STOP PRESS: Market Street will re-open at 9am this Thursday, but bomb-damaged Coporation St will remain closed.

Text and photos by Aidan O'Rourke


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