A training device left in a soccer stadium over the weekend triggered a full evacuation and the postponement of a Manchester United match.
Just before the 3 p.m. start of the match at Old Trafford football stadium on Sunday in Manchester, England, ground staff alerted police to a suspicious item found in a bathroom at the stadium. Police quickly responded and explosive experts were called in to assess the item, which was described “as an incredibly realistic-looking explosive device.”
A partial evacuation of the stadium was initially put in place. Police and Manchester United club officials then expanded it to a full, controlled evacuation, and decided to abandon the match.
Phil McNulty, BBC Sport chief football writer, was at Old Trafford and described the incident and evacuation in full for the BBC.
Thousands of supporters were already inside the stadium, McNulty wrote, when “in a well-organized drill” they were moved out as a Red Code operation was announced over the stadium’s public address system.
“Those in the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand, where some had already gathered in the directors’ box, and the East Stand, where the Bournemouth supporters were assembled, were told to stay calm and remain in their seats,” McNulty explained. “Bournemouth’s players had started their warm-up, but they left the pitch swiftly once it became clear a security operation was under way as police moved in and a helicopter flew above the ground.”
After the announcement was made that the stadium needed to be evacuated, McNulty said people exited orderly and were “shepherded away from the area where police were carrying out an inspection of the suspicious package.”
Authorities then conducted a controlled explosion of the device and a full search of the stadium. Investigators later determined that it was not a real explosive device, but a training device accidentally left in the stadium by a private company.
“Following today’s controlled explosion, we have since found out that the item was a training device which had accidentally been left by a private company following a training exercise involving explosive search dogs,” said Assistant Chief Constable John O’Hare of the Greater Manchester Police in a statement. “Whilst this item did not turn out to be a viable explosive, on appearance this device was as real as could be, and the decision to evacuate the stadium was the right thing to do, until we could be sure that people were not at risk.”
The name of the company that left the training device in the stadium has not been released, but Manchester United’s Executive Vice Chairman Ed Woodward said in a statement that the club will be investigating the incident to “inform future actions and decisions.”
“The club takes security very seriously and staff are regularly trained with the police and emergency services to identify and deal with these incidents,” he added.
Due to the evacuation and the bomb scare, the match between Manchester United and Bournemouth was abandoned—a decision that the Premier League said in a statement that it supported.
“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 league explained. “The Premier League will seek to rearrange the [match] as soon as practically possible and will advise fans accordingly. It is always the last resort to abandon one of our [matches] and while we apologize for the inconvenience caused to fans, we are sure—in the circumstances—they will appreciate the need to do so.”
The match—between Manchester United and Bournemouth—has been rescheduled for Tuesday night at 20:00 BST at Old Trafford.
Manchester United will refund all tickets and allow ticket holders from both clubs to watch the rescheduled match for free. The move is expected to cost the club approximately £3 million.