An embarrassing security blunder brought chaos and disruption to the final day of the English Premier League soccer season on Sunday, as tens of thousands of fans at Manchester United’s iconicOld Trafford stadium were evacuated by police due to a suspected bomb threat.
United, one of the most famed and successful teams in the world, was due to host Bournemouth to conclude its league campaign. After an “incredibly lifelike” package, including a taped device made up of a cell phone and protruding wires, was discovered, the game was postponed and supporters ordered out of the 75,635-seat venue.
However, late on Sunday evening, Greater Manchester Police said that instead of having been planted as a hoax terror threat, as originally suspected, the device had been accidentally left behind following a security training exercise by a private company.
“It is outrageous this situation arose and a full inquiry is required to urgently find out how this happened, why it happened, and who will be held accountable,” Manchester police and crime commissioner Tony Lloyd said in a statement. “This fiasco caused massive inconvenience to supporters who had come from far and wide to watch the match, wasted the time of huge numbers of police officers and the army’s bomb squad, and unnecessarily put people in danger."
Earlier in the day bomb disposal experts carried out a controlled explosion of the device, but not before a nervous air descended upon Old Trafford, with the game being called off.
The match will take place on Tuesday, with United offering refunds to all ticket holders and free entry. According to the BBC, the move will cost the club around $4.3 million.
Nevertheless there are likely to be conflicting feelings from the soccer-mad public and the wider community.
There will be frustration directed at United, with this embarrassment coming at the end of a disappointing season on the field of play. Chief executive Ed Woodwardpledged to investigate how the package was not removed as part of the training exercise, while insisting “the safety of fans is always our highest priority.”
Yet the bizarre saga is also a reminder that security measures and soccer now go hand in hand.  The sport known as “The Beautiful Game” is a legitimate target for those either seeking attention or manufacturing harm.
That is why for all the fear and tension and disappointment, there was little in the way of protest on Sunday, just concern and a nervous wait for more information.
Soccer fans need no reminder that being the most popular game on the planet does not detach it from terrorism.
Last week, 16 fans of Spanish club Real Madrid were gunned down at a supporters function in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad by Islamic State fundamentalists.
The Paris attacks in November included a soccer element too – a suicide bomber attempted to enter the Stade de France, where the French national team was playing Germany, before eventually detonating the device outside.
Days later, a match between Germany and the Netherlands in Hanover, Germany, was cancelled after police and stadium officials received a bomb threat.
The higher-profile the venue, the occasion or the vested parties, the bigger the potential threat and sports has found it necessary to become increasingly vigilant in these troubled times. And this is why a potential terror threat to Manchester United, on the last and one of the most-viewed days of the season, was believable.
Soccer, and sports in general, has modern realities to consider, many of which involve planning and preparing to combat potential threats. On Sunday, it was those efforts, unwittingly, that caused the chaos.