Before the final match of the season could even get underway Sunday, Manchester United’s fans were leaving the team’s stadium in droves. Local police oversaw the mass evacuation of the soccer team’s Old Trafford stadium, prompted by reports of a suspicious package found in the stands.
Now, Greater Manchester Police say that item — which had been described as an “incredibly realistic-looking explosive device” — was in fact just a training device.
“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,” announced John O’Hare, assistant chief constable from Greater Manchester Police.
The announcement brings a cheerful — if somewhat curious — conclusion to a day that began with tension and disappointment as fans filtered out of the stadium. Postponement of the match with Bournemouth came just about 20 minutes before kickoff, as players were still warming up on the pitch.
“Police evacuated the stadium, Old Trafford, and brought in sniffer dogs,” NPR’s Lauren Frayer reported for our NewsCast unit earlier Sunday.
Hours passed as the sniffer dogs combed the stadium’s stands and bomb disposal experts sought to safely destroy the package. A bomb squad carried out a controlled explosion at the stadium; shortly afterward, officials released a statement that the exploded device was not viable.
They expanded on that assessment Sunday evening.
“While 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,” O’Hare explained.
The English Premier League announced the match has been rescheduled for Tuesday night, when Manchester United and Bournemouth players will take the field once more — presumably with better results this time around.
That said, it’s looking likely that Man U fans will still come away disappointed: As The Associated Press reports, “United has to win the match by a 19-goal margin or more to have any hope of finishing in fourth place and above crosstown rival Manchester City for a Champions League spot.”