In a day of drama, Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium was fully evacuated after police and emergency services confirmed that a "suspect package" was found in the North West quadrant of the grounds. All players were forced to leave the pitch ahead of the match, in which Manchester United were set to face off against AFC Bournemouth.

In what was described by local law enforcement as a 'controlled evacuation', fans were ushered out of the stadium from the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and the Stretford End and into the surrounding areas. The match was subsequently abandoned.

Sources on the ground quickly reported that a bomb squad had been called in and that police sniffer dogs were scouring the seats of the stadium for further suspicious packages or devices. Media and journalists were also evacuated from the stadium amid a heavy police presence.

Controlled explosion

Police and 'bomb disposal experts' were forced to carry out a controlled explosion on the suspect item found in the stadium. One media correspondent reported that a 'police source' said that a "phone was found attached to a pipe".

The Greater Manchester Police confirmed: "Bomb disposal experts carried out controlled explosion at Old Trafford on what is described as [an] incredibly lifelike explosive device. Full assessment now concluded and [the] found device was not viable. A full search of the stadium is ongoing."

Before it emerged the suspected bomb was a 'training device', the Premier League released an official statement. It said: "The decision to abandon the Manchester United versus AFC Bournemouth match was taken after the police advised of the necessity to deal with a suspect package.

"When it comes to matters of security it is obviously right that Manchester United and the Premier League place the safety of supporters and employees foremost.

"The Premier League will seek to rearrange the fixture as soon as practically possible and will advise fans accordingly. It is always the last resort to abandon one of our fixtures and while we apologise for the inconvenience caused to fans we are sure, in the circumstances, they will appreciate the need to do so."

"Military colleagues"

Meanwhile, John O'Hare, assistant chief constable of the Manchester police, said: "We are doing everything we can to investigate this item as quickly as possible, however our priority is obviously to ensure the safety of everyone in the stadium and surrounding area.

"As a result, today's game has been abandoned and a controlled evacuation of the stadium has now taken place. We are awaiting the imminent arrival of military colleagues to come and support us and establish what exactly we are dealing with. We don't make these decisions lightly and we have done this today to ensure the safety of all those attending."

A European security official told The Associated Press the suspicious item at Old Trafford coincided with increased 'chatter' about threats to sports stadiums and other targets which would draw considerable crowds.

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 spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak about ongoing investigations, AP revealed.

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." Additionally, security at Premier League stadiums was increased after the Paris attacks that killed 130 people in November.