Football: Old Trafford evacuated following security scare

Fans being evacuated after the discovery of a suspect package at Old Trafford. The match was abandoned yesterday, leaving Manchester United's last game in the balance.
Fans being evacuated after the discovery of a suspect package at Old Trafford. The match was abandoned yesterday, leaving Manchester United's last game in the balance.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Red Devils' season, like their manager's fate, left hanging after match is abandoned

Manchester United had hoped it would be a day of celebration, the occasion when they secured qualification for the Champions League.

Instead, it was one of confusion as yesterday's game against Bournemouth was over before it started, called off on the orders of Greater Manchester police.

"Due to the discovery of a suspect package in the North-West quadrant, the match against Bournemouth has been abandoned on police advice," a brief club statement read.

It left United mired in uncertainty about when, how and where their Premier League campaign would conclude.

An "operation code red" alert was broadcast over the tannoy 20 minutes before kick-off, when both sets of players were warming up.

They were moved back into the dressing rooms and two stands, the Stretford End and the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, were evacuated.

Fans in the South and East Stands were ordered to remain in their seats for another 35 minutes before United eventually confirmed the game would not go ahead, after first Bournemouth and then the police had said it was off.

The initial reaction - perhaps a very British one - had been to make light of the situation. Bournemouth fans quipped that they had more supporters than United. Viewing the empty seats in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and the Stretford End, one neutral joked that the fans had heard that manager Louis van Gaal was staying on for a further year.

Their game at West Ham on Tuesday had been delayed by 45 minutes. The suggestion was that United, for so long the team of late goals, were now the team of late kick-offs.

Few thought that this match would be postponed but then it emerged this was more serious than most had assumed.

The last abandoned game at Old Trafford was in 2004 due to a hail storm. There have been games called off at other grounds, because of weather, floodlight failure or pitch invasions. This, however, was something different.

United, as perhaps the most high-profile club in the world, are an obvious terrorist target. Security precautions at Old Trafford have been ramped up since November's terror attacks in Paris.

Fans, journalists and even high-ranking club officials have become accustomed to being patted down, to having their bags searched and their cars scanned. So this had seemed a normal afternoon at Old Trafford. The game's abandonment leaves questions of when it can be rearranged, even as their Champions League hopes are virtually extinguished after Manchester City's draw with Swansea.

The timescale is difficult, however. United face Crystal Palace in Saturday's FA Cup final. Realistically, it only leaves Monday or Tuesday as options for the game to be played, perhaps behind closed doors.

Decisions will have to be made, and quickly, but chaos reigned at Old Trafford yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'Old Trafford evacuated'. Print Edition | Subscribe