Police ordered the Manchester United soccer team to abandon their final Premier League game of the season against Bournemouth on Sunday after a suspicious package was discovered at the Old Trafford stadium.
Tens of thousands of fans were ordered from the 75,600 capacity stadium when the alert was sounded about 20 minutes before the scheduled 2 p.m. 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.”
The package was detonated about an hour after it was located.
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 traveling Bournemouth fans — to remain in their seats before the game was called off.
A European security official said the suspicious item at Old Trafford coincided with increased chatter about threats to sports stadiums and other targets which would draw considerable crowds.
This said, leaving a package like this runs counter to tactics seen recently by extremists. “Many times these things amount to hoaxes,” the official said.
“The terror threat level associated with Irish dissidents has been raised recently due to credible threats we’ve been monitoring,” the official added. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak about ongoing investigations.
Last week, British officials raised the threat level regarding a possible attack on the mainland by Irish Republican dissidents, upping the threat level from “moderate” to “substantial.” That means an attack was viewed as a “strong possibility.”
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 Monday was delayed after their team bus was attacked by fans.
Louis van Gaal’s side went into the game seeking a victory that would leave them in fourth place — and qualified for next season’s Champions League — should local rivals Manchester City fail to win at Swansea.
There was no initial indication of the seriousness of the incident but by the scheduled 3:00 p.m. kick-off, 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 3.15 p.m. remaining parts of Old Trafford were evacuated.