Supporters spoke of their anger and terror over Manchester United’s abandoned match against Bournemouth as they reconvened at a subdued Old Trafford for Tuesday’s rescheduled fixture.
Sunday’s game was called off at the last minute following the discovery of a suspicious package in a toilet in the stadium’s northwest quadrant, which prompted a hasty evacuation.
It transpired that the device had been a fake bomb accidentally left behind during a terror training exercise last week and the Bournemouth fans making the 500-mile (800-kilometre) round trip for the second time in three days were less than impressed.
“I was absolutely livid,” said Andrew Hardy, 42, who was back at Old Trafford with his 10-year-old son, Connor, after both were involved in Sunday’s evacuation.
“I couldn’t believe that a cock-up had ruined the day for so many thousands of people. I was absolutely blown away.”
Bournemouth offered to cover the cost of travel for the fans attending Tuesday’s match, but their inability to find enough coaches left fans requiring alternative means of transport.
Hardy ended up offering a lift to three fellow supporters — Louis Martin, 23, Ricky Martin, 27, and Charles Rees, 16 — who had turned to a Bournemouth fans’ forum on Facebook for help after being unable to find a place on one of the coaches.
There was praise for the orderly nature of the stadium evacuation, but fans reported confusion caused by the fact that whereas the cancellation of the game was being widely reported by conventional and social media, fear of creating a crush by the exits meant that the supporters inside the stadium were among the last to be told what was happening.
Laura Kelly and her 12-year-old son, Dean, had travelled over from Ireland to attend their first match and they were disturbed by the swirl of rumours caused by the discovery of the device.
– ‘Quieter than usual’ –
“People started panicking and saying ‘Why weren’t we being evacuated?’ she told AFP.
“Because it was coming over on people’s phones that there was a bomb or something. And then we left, and we ran because we were terrified. We didn’t know what was going on.”
There was a visible security presence on the approach to Old Trafford on Tuesday, with stewards in fluorescent yellow vests performing bag searches while large groups of police officers patrolled the ground.
With United’s Champions League hopes having been ended by Manchester City’s 1-1 draw at Swansea City on Sunday, there were concerns that home fans would choose to stay away.
United officials observed that it was “quieter than usual”.
Sunday’s events were particularly unfortunate for one supporter. Airport worker Moses Kamara had travelled to Manchester from Sierra Leone, as the guest of the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST), to watch his first United game.
He had still been sitting in the garden of the organisation’s clubhouse on Sir Matt Busby Way when news of the evacuation broke.
But having been taken in as a guest of MUST, he will attend both Tuesday’s game and United’s FA Cup final meeting with Crystal Palace at Wembley on Saturday thanks to the gift of a ticket from a fan who is unable to attend the game due to a holiday.
“He was supposed to go back on Monday, but all the lads from MUST sat around and said, ‘Can’t we sort something out for him?'” MUST member Barry Dunnett, 60, told AFP as he polished off a carton of fish and chips on a low wall beside the clubhouse.
“It’s a good news story out of something really embarrassing.”