An incendiary end to the season

16 May 2016 | Lloyd Hughes

So here we are then. The final day of the Premier League football season. It’s finely poised. All kick offs are set for 3pm so that no one has an unfair advantage knowing how results are going elsewhere. This isn’t as important as it could’ve been, with the league already won and relegation sorted out, but there’s still a Champion’s League space up for grabs.

Manchester City need a point away to Swansea to secure it. Or, if they lose, Manchester United need to beat Bournemouth at Old Trafford and the spot will be theirs. If you’re not a football fan you probably won’t appreciate the significance, but Europe’s premier club competition nets millions of pounds of extra revenue for the clubs that qualify, meaning they can buy better players and pay better wages. Basically, it’s a big deal.

In the build-up to the game, tension is high, with Man City fans anxious in case of a slip up and Man United fans fearful of the inevitable. City’s fluctuating form this season and United’s snooze inducing play, means that, approaching kick-off, it really could go either way.

That’s how it was set anyway, before this football based apprehension was shattered by the very real threat of a bomb. Fifteen minutes before the start time, two stands of Old Trafford were abandoned following the discovery of a suspicious package. In the heightened tension since the terror attacks in Paris, an alarming looking device isn’t something that can be taken lightly. The match was duly postponed before being abandoned entirely once it became apparent that the item could be the real deal. A bomb squad was called and a controlled explosion was carried out.

Sighs of relief all around the country as a seemingly life threatening situation was resolved without any casualties or loss of life. On the face of it, an abandoned football match was a worthwhile cost if there was risk of anyone dying. After all, despite Bill Shankly’s assertion to the contrary, football shouldn’t be a matter of life and death.

As the afternoon unfolded, details emerged that the device was in fact an ‘elaborate hoax’ where it looked like a mobile phone had been wired to a pipe in an attempt to imitate a bomb. This actually sounded sinister. It wasn’t a misplaced backpack. It appeared that someone had been deliberately trying to mimic an explosive device. If it wasn’t ISIS sympathisers or dissident Irish Republicans, then it was someone seriously misguided – either moronic pranksters or someone with a hefty chip on their shoulder.

Now though, it’s since emerged that it was in fact a training device left over by a private security company which had been conducting sniffer dog training at the ground a few days previously.

Mein Gott.

That is an absolute PR disaster for the security company involved. The eyes of the world were on this incident. Once the firm is named (it will no doubt be scrabbling furiously to not be), everyone will know its name for all the wrong reasons. How the hell did no one put two and two together?

“There’s a bomb!”
“Christ, we were doing training for just this the other day!”
“Yeah they were literally planting bomb like devices around the stadium and getting dogs to…hold on a minute…”

You’d think they’d have given the company a ring at least before sending everyone home.

The costs of evacuating the ground, recompensing the fans and restaging the match will be astronomical. Bournemouth to Manchester is a four-hour journey, and that’s if nightmarish traffic on the M6 is in your favour. Travelling fans must be furious.

And then there’s the policing (and bomb squad) costs to take into account.

And let’s not forget the FA cup final. Manchester United are due to play in it on Saturday, which should’ve been after a six-day rest. Now, with a rearranged fixture set for Tuesday, there’ll be just four days in between.

Manchester City drew, so United can’t get fourth spot now, which means the atmosphere at Old Trafford on Tuesday will be subdued and they’ll be fielding a weakened team thanks to the cup.

If they lose on Saturday, hard-pressed manager Louis Van Gaal, will no doubt be blaming the bomb scare as a convenient distraction.

Whoever was responsible for taking stock of the training equipment at the unnamed private firm will be in for a very tough Monday. If you scatter bomb like devices for a living, you should really keep track of where you put them.

It’s also made Manchester United a subject of ridicule, which, in fairness, is fine by me.

It couldn’t have been worse, from a PR point of view. But it could’ve been a lot worse if it was an actual bomb. So, whilst safety always comes first and we can commend the authorities for making the right choice, we can, at least, all laugh at Man United.