Manchester Arena attack: Police hope for 'poignant' Man Utd final in Stockholm

Manchester United players
Manchester United players inspected the pitch at the Friends Arena on Tuesday

Police say it is right for Wednesday's Europa League final between Manchester United and Ajax to go ahead, but postponing the game was discussed after Monday's Manchester Arena attack.

"Very quickly a decision was taken the game would go on," said Greater Manchester Police's John O'Hare.

The chief superintendent anticipates a "poignant" occasion in Stockholm.

The UK terror threat level has been raised to its highest level following the bombing, which killed 22 people.

Asked if postponing the match had been considered, O'Hare told the BBC: "That would have been discussed, but the whole rhetoric that has got to come out is terrorism can't win. We can't stop doing the things we enjoy and nourish our lives."

He said Uefa, European football's governing body, had "changed some of the planning to be a bit more respectful and poignant".

O'Hare added some potential trouble-making supporters from both sides had been identified, and details passed on to Swedish police.

"You would like to think the events in Manchester would make people think twice about wanting to cause trouble and put things in perspective," he said.

United fans and officials have said the final is secondary to the "pain and suffering" in Manchester since the attack.

"I think what happened really put things into perspective," said United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.

"Words don't really do justice for how we all feel. We're numb."

A minute's silence will be observed before the final in Stockholm, and both teams will wear black armbands. The opening ceremony will also be considerably reduced as a mark of respect for the victims.

"Success tonight is nothing compared to the pain and suffering back home," Woodward told MUTV.

"It was very sombre flying over with the directors - it was all we were talking about."

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Ex-United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel says he cannot get excited for the final because of the attack and that football has become "very insignificant".

"In many ways, football all of a sudden became very insignificant. I know it bears a lot of importance for next season what happens in the game tonight, but in many ways I can't get excited about this game," he told BBC Sport.

"I think it's very difficult to think about football."

Former United defender Phil Neville, who is in Stockholm working for BBC Radio 5 live, said the club's home-grown players will find it particularly "difficult".

"When I was told I'd be working on this match, it felt like it was Christmas Day," said the 40-year-old. "But I don't want to be at this game now, I want to be in Manchester.

"Players like Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard - they've been brought up in this city. Paul Pogba was brought up in the city from the age of 14. They will find if difficult.

"From what would be the biggest games of their careers... it doesn't feel important."

But he added: "Football, for 90 minutes, can bring a smile back to the faces of the people of Manchester."

Rio Ferdinand, a former England and United team-mate, said the match was a chance for players "to show Manchester solidarity".

He told 5 live: "Playing after such an unforgiving and devastating act, I don't think it matters whether you're a red or you're a blue, you want these guys to go out and represent Manchester and show the togetherness this city has got.

"It will dawn on the players after that this is such a huge game not only for Manchester United Football Club but also for a player to show they can bring a community, a city, a country together by playing and showing that whatever goes on they will go out there and perform to the best of their ability."

BBC sports news correspondent Andy Swiss, who is also in Stockholm, said there will be 1,200 police on duty around the 50,000-capacity Friends Arena, although there is no specific intelligence of any threat.

'The mood is absolutely flattened'

Manchester United fans with a banner outside the Friends Arena in Stockholm
Manchester United fans with a banner outside the Friends Arena in Stockholm

United were given 9,500 tickets for the final, although more fans are expected in Stockholm for Wednesday's match. Several told BBC Radio 5 live it was a subdued atmosphere.

One supporter said: "I don't want to be here, I didn't want to come. I've been getting messages all day: 'Look after yourself.' But it's them who have been targeted - it's Manchester, not Stockholm."

Another said: "We can't get drunk, enjoy ourselves, take pictures of ourselves enjoying ourselves in nice scenery and send them back home to Manchester. We can't do that. The whole mood's absolutely flattened."

One fan said the atmosphere at the airport was "like we'd already lost", adding: "There's lads I have known for years who are absolute jokers who were sat there so quiet. It's so sombre. We've got to win this now for the people of Manchester. I live near the Arena and was woken up by the sirens. It's heartbreaking."

Another said: "Football does become secondary but what we won't do is fall to these people. All we can say is our thoughts are with these families. We'll get behind our team, and when the game's finished, our thoughts will turn back to these people."

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'We cannot fly with the happiness'

United cancelled a scheduled news conference on Tuesday, but manager Jose Mourinho said a statement: "We are all very sad about the tragic events; we cannot take out of our minds and our hearts the victims and their families.

"We have a job to do and we will fly to Sweden to do that job. It is a pity we cannot fly with the happiness that we always have before a big game.

"I know, even during my short time here, that the people of Manchester will pull together as one."

Increased security at sporting events

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Greater Manchester Police and the city council have given the go-ahead for athletics' Great CityGames to take place in Manchester on Friday evening.

British sprinter Asha Philip, the European indoor 60m champion, is due to compete in the 100m and hopes the public comes out to watch.

"What can you do? We can't live our lives in fear. It's always going to be in the back of my mind, but we know it can happen anywhere," she said.

A decision is expected on Wednesday on whether the Great Manchester Run, which features Europe's largest 10km run and a separate half-marathon, will go ahead on Sunday.

Meanwhile, South African cricketers are said to be "uneasy" as they prepare for a one-day international against England at Headingley on Wednesday.

The teams will wear black armbands as a mark of respect to those killed in the bombing, with a minute's silence observed shortly before the 14:00 BST start. There will also be an increased police presence inside and outside the stadium.

South Africa team manager Mohammed Moosajee said: "As you can understand we have some genuine concerns, there was a lot of chatter during breakfast.

"I am happy to say we've had constant communications from the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) and their security manager.

"There have been guarantees put in place that security arrangements will be supplemented. We're told there will be more visible police at the stadium, at practice sessions as well as the hotels we will reside at."

Additional armed police offers will be deployed at this weekend's big sporting events in London, said the Metropolitan Police.

Wembley Stadium will host the FA Cup final between Arsenal and Chelsea on Saturday. The arena's arch was lit red, white and blue overnight, with "For Manchester" written on its giant screens.

Officials said there will be "an enhanced security operation for all upcoming events", and a Football Association spokesperson encouraged supporters attending Saturday's game to arrive as early as possible for additional checks.

Police Scotland will be reviewing its in the coming weeks, including Saturday's Scottish Cup final.

Premiership Rugby said there will be a minute's silence before Saturday's final between Exeter and Wasps at Twickenham.

In the United States there was a moment of silence held before Tuesday's play-off games in the NBA and NHL, and the UK's national anthem God Save the Queen was played at Yankee Stadium in New York before a Major League Baseball fixture.

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The New York Mets stand for a moment of silence before their game against the San Diego Padres at Citi Field
Quicken Loans Arena
There was a moment of silence before game four of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA play-offs between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics

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