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Suspect device at Manchester United stadium ‘not viable’

Oli Scarff, AFP | A sniffer dog searches the stands after fans evacuated Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, on May 15, 2016
4 min

Army experts blew up a suspect device at Old Trafford on Sunday after tens of thousands of fans were evacuated ahead of Manchester United's final English Premier League game of the season.


Amid a nerve-jangling scare with much of Europe on alert for militant attacks, police said the package "wasn't viable" and had been an "incredibly lifelike explosive device".

The "code red" alert was signalled by police just 20 minutes before the scheduled start of the game between United and Bournemouth.

A club employee found what was described as a mobile phone attached to gas pipes during a routine sweep of the northwest corner of Old Trafford, a source said.

Some players were already on the pitch warming up for the game and had to be led away.

"We're still in the dressing room, seems we'll be the last to leave. There's been nerves and tension," United midfielder Ander Herrera told Spanish radio.

Fans were taken out of the 75,600-capacity stadium as military bomb disposal experts rushed to the scene.

"Bomb disposal experts carried out a controlled explosion at Old Trafford on what is described as (an) incredibly lifelike explosive device," Greater Manchester Police said on its Twitter account.

"Full assessment now concluded and found device wasn't viable."

The northwest corner, where the Stretford End meets the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, were both emptied in an operation which club officials said was carried out quickly and without any injuries.

Remaining spectators in the South and East Stands -- including around 3,500 Bournemouth fans who had made a 500-mile (800 kilometre) round trip from the south coast for their club's first ever league game at Old Trafford -- were judged to be out of the danger area and remained in place.

Both sets of players also remained in the dressing room area.

Kick-off was initially delayed for 45 minutes but police quickly judged that the device presented sufficient threat for the game to be abandoned.

The Premier League later announced that the match would now be played on Tuesday, May 17 at 1900 GMT.

Old Trafford gridlock

Former United midfielder Micky Thomas, who entertains corporate guests at Old Trafford on matchdays, told the Daily Post: "At first I really thought it was a joke, as I couldn't believe it was really happening.

"But it was all handled very well, I didn't see any panic or chaos."

It is the second time in less than a week that 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 home fans.

More than two hours after the game was abandoned, a ring of police and stewards still had the stadium cordoned off. Traffic in all directions around the stadium was gridlocked.

It was a dramatic end to a day in which United supporters had hoped to see their team win and finish in fourth place.

But, with all other fixtures kicking off as planned, Manchester City's 1-1 draw at Swansea City meant United, barring a freakishly huge win over Bournemouth when Sunday's abandoned fixture is played, would miss out on qualification for next season's Champions League.

Logistical problem

Officials told Bournemouth players and management that they could return home as there was no possibility of the game being played within 24 hours of Sunday's abandoned fixture, but they will now be back at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

"Manchester United treated us very well," Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe told the Bournemouth Echo.

"We decided to come back to Bournemouth because there was no sign of the game being played the next day."

Sunday's abandonment was especially disappointing for Moses, a United fan from Sierra Leone, who had been hoping to watch his first match at Old Trafford.

But members of the Manchester United Supporters Trust, hearing of his plight, clubbed together to pay for him to stay another week in England and attend next week's FA Cup final against Crystal Palace.

"Sadly they postponed the match -- I was so sad about that -- but they organised so I can stay another week and I'm excited about that!," Moses told the BBC.

Although Bournemouth are safe from the threat of relegation and cannot qualify for Europe, Sunday's match had significance for the Cherries.

Bournemouth, still in 16th place, were looking to complete a league double over United, with the amount of prize money they receive dependent on where they finish in the table.


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