Yesterday Old Trafford Football Stadium, the home of Manchester United, was evacuated after the discovery of a suspicious package in a toilet. It has come to light in the hours since that the package was actually left from a training exercise and was not a bomb at all. However it looked very realistic and the authorities stand by their decision to evacuate the stadium and call off this afternoon’s match against Bournemouth.
As someone who works part time in the security industry within a rugby stadium, I understand the importance of safety and ensuring that there are no threats to the public. Stewards and SIA officers (those who hold qualifications for searching and restraint) are the main protector of the large crowds who flock to sporting events and the infrastructure of the stadium. If there is anything suspicious, we must deal with it seriously, because even a small explosive device can have catastrophic consequences for spectators, sportsmen and staff. Considering it takes 20 minutes to evacuate a theatre with less than 1,000 people, imagine the logistics of evacuating an entire stadium of over 75,000 spectators in an emergency situation.
However, many people on Twitter have belittled the staff and ridiculed the fact that the match was called off. I believe this to be completely uncalled for. Staff followed procedure and involved the police in their assessment of the package. The problem with the threat of a bomb is that you can’t get too close or risk setting off the bomb and putting yourself and those around you at risk. On appearances, statements suggest that there was a strong similarity to a bomb. Add to this the fact that few staff have actually seen any form of explosive device because threats are so rare, the action taken was wholly justified.
This is not the only occurrence where members of the public have cried out over actions of security staff. Back in October in the Rugby World Cup final there was a pitch invasion from a teenage fan: he was tackled by security but the players disagreed with the interception and Sonny Bill Williams gave his medal to the young boy. Again, an example of staff acting according to guidelines and others disagreeing with the response. My words at the time were as follows:
I expected the tackle executed by the supervisor of the response team. And no, I don’t think it was inappropriate or too forceful. Charlie Lines, as much as he just wanted to get close to the players, actually could have been arrested for trespassing on the field of play – he is over the age of criminal responsibility. At the very least, he should have been ejected from the stadium premises.
Pitch invasions have been banned for good reason. You cannot allow everyone on to the pitch because there’s not enough space. Hillsborough and the Bradford City Fire are lasting examples of how bad crowd management can kill people. Therefore nobody who is unauthorised can enter the field of play, no matter how old they are and why they want to. The actions of Williams in support of the boy served to make what he did okay and paint the supervisor as the villain, legitimising the idea of pitch invasions to all those watching.
I understand how inconvenient it was that the game today was cancelled, particularly because it was a false alarm, but please put yourself in the situation if that had been a real explosive device, left there to destroy hundreds of lives. You probably wouldn’t be alive to comment on the situation. Security rules and procedures are there to keep you safe, and long may this continue without undue abuse from disgruntled fans.