SKOPJE, Macedonia — The heat was uncomfortable. Super Cup fans were having a party anyway.
Hours before Manchester United and Real Madrid met at the Philip II Arena in Skopje on Tuesday, thousands of fans of the clubs — many from neither England nor Spain — gathered in the Macedonian capital in a festive atmosphere despite heatwave temperatures of 38 degrees (100 F).
City authorities set up three fan zones, one for each team plus an area for neutrals, where fans posed with UEFA trophies, lined up to fire penalty shots into a miniature goal, and dodged or danced through spurts of water from a grid fountain in the city’s main square.
Fred Birkbeck and his 13-year-old son Daniel traveled from Dumfries in Scotland to watch United.
“Too hot for us? No, we’ll be fine. We’re more worried for the team,” Birkbeck said.
“I’ve been a fan since the 1970s, since the time of (former Scotland player and United manager) Tommy Docherty.”
More than 2,000 police, including heavily armed officers, were deployed around the city. Police and military helicopters buzzed around the 35,000-seat stadium, as security was kept tight. There were multiple road closures and even a limit imposed on the size of flags fans could carry into the stadium.
Tiny Macedonia, with a struggling economy and having recently emerged from months of political crisis, hoped to persuade visitors to turn their stay into a holiday, and issued promotional videos for the city in English.
For locals, however, it was all about the excitement of hosting the two football giants.
None appeared happier than Nada Skerlev, an 84-year-old retired pediatrician who has supported United for most of her life.
She couldn’t get a ticket for the matchup between the winners of the Champions League and Europa League, but a campaign of support on social media prompted the country’s football association chief to pay a visit to her home with two match tickets.
“Today I got a pleasant surprise,” she said. “To see my favorite team in Skopje, that’s a feeling I’ll never forget.”
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Online: Skopje Super Cup video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGC-f-MQ8ik