Manchester: Police ordered Manchester United to abandon their final Premier League game of the season against Bournemouth on Sunday after a suspicious package was discovered at Old Trafford.
Tens of thousands of fans were ordered from the 75,600 capacity stadium when the alert was sounded about 20 minutes before the scheduled 1400 GMT kickoff.
The game “has been abandoned, fans are leaving the ground. Please avoid the area if possible”, Manchester police said on their Twitter account.
United confirmed that a security alert caused the abrupt cancellation.
“Due to the discovery of a suspect package in the North-West Quadrant of the ground, the match with Bournemouth has been abandoned today on police advice,” a United spokesman said in a statement.
Inside the stadium, announcements were made on the public address system that security staff should invoke “operation red code”.
Half of the stands at Old Trafford were evacuated. United said the suspect package had been discovered in the Stretford End stand.
Public address announcements instructed supporters in the South and East Stands — including travelling Bournemouth fans — to remain in their seats before the game was called off.
It is the second time in less than a week that Manchester United have been involved in a security alert.
Their game at West Ham United on Tuesday was delayed after their team bus was attacked by fans.
Louis van Gaal’s side went into the game seeking a victory that would give them a chance of finishing fourth, and thus qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
There was no initial indication of the seriousness of the incident but by the scheduled 3:00pm kick-off (1400 GMT), stewards outside the ground were telling supporters that the game had been abandoned and, within minutes, the decision was confirmed by police.
People who remained inside the stadium were told to stay in their seats “while the forecourt is cleared of fans already evacuated from the stadium”.
The club held up announcing the decision to fans remaining in two other stands for another 10 minutes, to avoid congestion outside the ground. By 3.15pm, the remaining parts of Old Trafford were evacuated.
– Bomb squad –
Soldiers from the British Army’s ‘bomb squad’ were then sent to Old Trafford to help police assess just what sort of package had forced the match to be abandoned.
Assistant Chief Constable John O’Hare of Greater Manchester Police said: “We are doing everything we can to investigate this item as quickly as possible, however our priority is obviously to ensure the safety of everyone in the stadium and surrounding area.
“As a result, today’s game has been abandoned and a controlled evacuation of the stadium has now taken place.”
He added: “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.”
With Manchester United playing Crystal Palace in Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley, it may be more than a week before the Bournemouth match takes place.
A statement issued by the Premier League said they would “seek to rearrange the fixture as soon as practically possible and will advise fans accordingly”.
Although Bournemouth are safe from the threat of relegation and cannot qualify for Europe, Sunday’s match was not without significance for the south coast side.
Eddie Howe’s men, who started the weekend in 16th place, were looking to completed a league double over United, with the amount of prize money they receive dependent on where they finish in the table. – AFP