France and England unite at Wembley after Paris attacks
La Marseillaise may never have been sung as badly – or as poignantly – as football fans join together in show of solidarity
The footballers of England and France stood shoulder to shoulder at Wembley four days after the Paris terror attacks as they lined up for a match that had become "less a sporting event than a diplomatic one".
As armed police patrolled the stadium and its environs, and news broke of postponements elsewhere in Europe, the pre-match rituals, featuring wreaths laid by both the teams' captains and Prince William, were a "a powerful and poignant expression of Anglo-French solidarity", says Oliver Kay of The Times. It "felt like a significant and highly symbolic response to last Friday's devastation".
In a break with protocol, God Save the Queen was sung before the visitors' anthem, La Marseillaise. English fans were invited to join in and the result "may well have been the worst rendition of their national anthem to greet any French national team," says Robert Hardman of the Daily Mail. "It was also, surely, one of the most poignant."
It was, he says, "an exuberant, spectacular display of that totemic French national virtue – fraternite".
The France team was directly affected by the attacks in Paris. There were deaths at the Stade de France as they played Germany on Friday, midfielder Lassana Diarra lost a cousin in central Paris and Antoine Griezmann's sister was one of the survivors of the Bataclan theatre massacre. It has also emerged that two friends of Paris Saint Germain player Javier Pastore, who was on international duty with Argentina, were among the dead at the concert.
Against that backdrop "there was nothing contrived about framing this fixture as the first cultural response to the events of Friday night", says Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph. It was "affirmation that a way of life could not be broken".
Meanwhile, the friendly between Germany and Holland, which Chancellor Angela Merkel had been due to attend, was called off an hour before kick-off after police received a "concrete threat". That came a day after Belgium's game against Spain was postponed for similar reasons. The France squad were not told of the news from Germany for fear of upsetting them further.
The match at Wembley, won 2-0 by England, was something of "an irrelevance", says Barney Ronay of The Guardian. "Rarely can a group of footballers have looked as deflated and strangely bruised as France did here. At times, as the second half stretched out, it felt a little cruel leaving them out there. As the final whistle was blown, the overriding feeling was one of shared relief as much as defiance."
Deschamps and France set for emotional Wembley welcome
There will be unprecedented security around Wembley, with Prince William and David Cameron both attending the match, and the pre-match formalities are sure to be highly charged.
Wembley's arch will once again be illuminated in red, white and blue, while the French flag and national slogan 'Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite' will be projected on LED screens on Wembley Way.
England captain Wayne Rooney, his French counterpart, Hugo Lloris, and the referee will lay a floral tribute on the pitch before the kick-off. Both sets of players will wear black armbands.
In a major break with protocol, God Save the Queen will be sung before the French national anthem, and when La Marseillaise rings out the words will be projected on screens around the stadium in the hope the entire crowd joins in.
Broadcaster ITV will not run an advert break after the anthems as a mark of respect.
Before the game England captain Wayne Rooney spoke with unusual eloquence about the game's importance. "Sometimes, when bad things happen, football is the place where you feel most comfortable," he said. "Their players might be taking that into consideration. This will be a great night of togetherness for everyone to see. It will show the terrorists that the world will go on and stand against them."
Didier Deschamps, the French coach, agreed. "We will be on the pitch to wear our colours, the red, white and blue, even more proudly," he said.
"For Deschamps it is hard to imagine how he begins to reconcile what he witnessed at the Stade de France with his experience of winning the 1998 World Cup in that arena as part of a team who were a powerful symbol of the beauty, harmony and possibility of multicultural ideals," writes Amy Lawrence of The Guardian.
Having captained that vibrant French side, "Deschamps is better placed than anyone to appreciate the value of such diversity, which he argued has become more important than ever in the light of the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday", says Matt Hughes in The Times. "Some England fans have not always grasped this message, but Wembley will see the best of the Three Lions' supporters this evening, with many expected to join with the 1,700 France fans in singing La Marseillaise before kick-off."
Wembley Paris tribute as France honour England fixture
England manager Roy Hodgson has welcomed the decision to go ahead with Tuesday's friendly between England and France at Wembley. Following Friday night's murderous attacks in Paris, which claimed the lives of 129 people and left hundreds more wounded, France cancelled all competitive sports fixtures, including Saturday's England Under-20s match against France in Brittany
But French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel le Graet issued a statement on Saturday saying France would honour its friendly against England tomorrow night.
"We respect the decision and will prepare accordingly, both on and off the pitch," said England boss Hodgson. "The match will be a serious occasion but one that shows that the football world is united against these atrocities. I am sure the England team and our fans will play their part and show solidarity with our French friends on Tuesday and provide support for both teams during this difficult time."
England fans are expected to sing La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, before the match in a show of sympathy with France. A similar gesture was made on Saturday evening when Saracens hosted Toulouse in rugby's Champions Cup, reports the BBC.
In addition the arch above Wembley stadium will be lit in the red, white and blue of the France flag as it was before Friday's fixture between England and Spain.
Tomorrow's match will have a particular resonance for France because one of Friday's terrorist attacks was at the Stade de France as Les Bleus played Germany in a friendly international. Several blasts were heard outside the stadium in the 20th minute of the match, and one suicide bomber detonated his device seconds after being refused entry to the stadium close to where president Francois Hollande was sitting.
One of the French team, former Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder Lassana Diarra learned later that his cousin, Asta Diakite, had been killed in one of the attacks in central Paris, says the BBC. "In this climate of terror, it is important for all of us who represent our country and its diversity to stay united against a horror which has no colour, no religion," said Diarra in a statement. "Stand together for love, respect and peace."
In announcing the decision to go ahead with the match, Football Association chairman Greg Dyke said: "Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with the city of Paris after these terrible atrocities. On behalf of the FA, I want to express our sorrow and send our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of those who have lost their lives."
Meanwhile Jacques Lambert, responsible for organising next year's Euro 2016 championships in France, has insisted the tournament should proceed as scheduled. Speaking to a French broadcaster, he said: "Wondering whether Euro 2016 must be cancelled is playing the game of the terrorists... we will take the necessary decisions for Euro 2016 to take place in the best safety conditions. Security in stadiums works well, the risk is more in the streets, in spontaneous gatherings."