A fake explosive device at Old Trafford has led to Manchester United’s final Premier League game of the season being abandoned.
Bomb disposal experts carried out a controlled explosion of a suspicious item described as an “incredibly lifelike explosive device” by Greater Manchester police. The side’s match against Bournemouth was abandoned after the device was discovered in the stadium’s north-west quadrant.
Greater Manchester police announced in a statement on Twitter: “Bomb disposal experts carried out controlled explosion at Old Trafford on what is described as incredibly lifelike explosive device … Full assessment now concluded and found device wasn’t viable. A full search of the stadium is ongoing. Full update to follow.”
A source at the stadium said that the device included a mobile phone, which was attached to a pipe. It was believed to have been found in a set of toilets in the ground’s north-west corner.
Greater Manchester police confirmed a controlled explosion was conducted within the stadium and stewards were seen filing back into the ground shortly before 5pm.
“We are awaiting the imminent arrival of military colleagues to come and support us and establish what exactly we are dealing with.
“We don’t make these decisions lightly and we have done this today to ensure the safety of all those attending. I am thankful for everyone’s support and assistance and we will continue to provide updates on this matter as soon as they become available.”
The alert at Old Trafford came just days after the home secretary, Theresa May, announced that the domestic intelligence service MI5 had raised the threat level to Great Britain from Northern Ireland-related terrorism from moderate to substantial – the third most serious category out of five.
May said on Wednesday the move “reflects the continuing threat from dissident republican activity”. The threat level to the UK from international terrorism remains at severe – meaning an attack is “highly likely”. This has not been changed.
A Premier League statement said: “The decision to abandon the Manchester United versus AFC Bournemouth match was taken after the police advised of the necessity to deal with a suspect package.
“When it comes to matters of security it is obviously right that Manchester United and the Premier League place the safety of supporters and employees foremost.
“The Premier League will seek to rearrange the fixture as soon as practically possible and will advise fans accordingly. It is always the last resort to abandon one of our fixtures and while we apologise for the inconvenience caused to fans we are sure, in the circumstances, they will appreciate the need to do so.”
Security personnel were supervising fans as they left the stadium, with the crowd of thousands told to move a safe distance from the complex.
Ed Woodward, United’s executive vice-chairman, immediately went into a meeting with the club secretary, John Alexander, and the Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, to discuss the complicated issue of when the game can be rearranged.
United’s involvement in the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace next Saturday clouds the issue and, with policing and stewarding issues also to be resolved, there is no easy solution for playing the fixture again. The two sets of players were called off the pitch during their warm-up at 2.43pm.
Many fans never managed to get into the stadium at all, and diverted instead to the beer garden at the Tollgate pub by Trafford Bar tram stop.
Pub landlord Steve Kerr was trying to look on the bright side. “The sun’s shining, everybody is in good spirits. But we’ve not really been happy all season but this puts the final nail in the coffin,” he said.
“It sums up our season, that. Just fizzling out – something and nothing,” said Matt Crew, who had come up for the match from Leek in Staffordshire.
His father, Dave, said there was no trouble. “People were just singing and chanting as usual. You can’t blame the club really. They’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. If anything goes wrong they’ll be the ones criticised. Security is the most important thing these days.”
Richard Stockwell, a dentist, had come from Oxford for the match but was sanguine about not seeing any football. “It’s just one of those things. I’d already decided I wasn’t going back in once we had been told to leave the Sir Alex Ferguson stand, before I heard the match was cancelled.
“The security worked really well. I’ve been in similar situations years ago when we’ve had to get out of places quickly and it was a mess. This was very well organised.”
Others outside the pub were speculating over who might have left the suspect package. A consensus emerged as word reached the picnic tables that the club’s biggest rivals were one nil up against Swansea after five minutes of play: “It was definitely a City fan.”