Football was united on Tuesday evening as both England and France supporters showed their solidarity in the wake of the terror attacks
It was all about the occasion rather than the game, but that’s the way it was meant to be. From the England fans singing La Marseillaise before kick-off to the floral tributes which laid beside the pitch throughout the match, football’s response to the Paris terror attacks was a fitting one.With the grieving process continuing back home, the France national side came to Wembley not so much for a friendly international as to play their part in the first step on the road to recovery after the events of Friday night.
For the past three days, the players and fans of Les Bleus had seen through the blue, white and red light displays on global landmarks that the world was uniting behind them. But tonight they felt it.
From the minute French fans walked down Wembley Way it was clear to them this was going to be no ordinary night at the football. There they saw England fans waving the tricolour on their way into the stadium, while some matched St George’s cross hats with France shirts as their chosen attire.
It was no different inside the stadium. A mosaic of the French flag was raised aloft by England supporters as 71,223 people joined together to sing La Marseillaise, then there was a moment of silence as impeccably observed as any in Wembley’s history. There followed the laying of flowers on the touchline by dignitaries from both nations as well as a touching team photograph in which the two sets of players linked arms with their adversaries.
The show of solidarity continued long into the game. Every time the visiting supporters struck up a chorus of their national anthem during the pedestrian contest being served up on the pitch, the home contingent greeted them with applause. England fans even took to greeting each French pass with a cheer of ‘Ole’ at one stage, while every attempt by the visitors to begin a Mexican wave was joyfully backed up in the home end.
As French substitutions were made there was applause, rather than barracking, from England supporters. And there were special receptions for the second-half introductions of Lassana Diarra and Antoine Griezmann following their decision to play on in the wake of family members being caught up in Friday’s attacks.
If the atmosphere has been edgy rather than energetic at Wembley for recent England internationals, this one was altogether more surreal. Only when Wayne Rooney closed in on goal and fired just wide of Hugo Lloris’ post did the home fans really seem to have finally realised there was a game going on.
Dele Alli’s wonderful strike in the closing moments of the first half prompted a slightly more natural feel about proceedings, but even after Rooney made it 2-0 there was no disguising that the night’s main objective had been achieved long before 8pm.
he French players, clearly going through the motions as they continue to come to terms with the consequences of the attacks on their capital, will have taken something from the normality of playing a football match. A final spontaneous burst of La Marseillaise from their supporters shortly after full-time was rewarded with the recognition of both sets of players, while the England band played to the tune of their opponents' anthem.
It was the right note on which to end.
England won 2-0, but this was not about Alli and Rooney. It was about Liberté, égalité and fraternité.