Walking out of Wembley Park station last night, I felt every person around me was on edge. Following the recent events in Paris some had questioned the decision to continue with the England vs France football friendly, and with the nation on high alert and police lining the streets there was no doubt in my mind that tensions would be running high.
But as I approached the stadium and saw the Wembley Arch lighting the sky bright with blue, white and red, and a mixture of fans and flags flowing down Wembley way, I realised this was an important occasion not just for England and France but for the sport itself. Last night proved that football has the power to transcend a 90 minute game and become something actually far more meaningful. The passion we so often see associated with the beautiful game became a means of bringing two nations together in unity.
The pre-match recognition of those who had lost their lives over the weekend was really incredibly emotional. The English national anthem was sung with immense proudness by the English fans surrounding me, and was followed by fans uniting to sing La Marseillaise. Given the small proportion of French fans on site, the anthem roared through the stadium with such passion I would have challenged any individual not to get goose bumps on their arms or a lump in their throat. There was another nice touch from the English fans as a large section of the crowd held aloft the French flag as a mark of respect.
With the news spreading that other football friendlies were being cancelled due to threats of security in or outside the stadium, the minute’s silence which every attendee in the stadium respected felt even more significant, raw and emotional. Instead of the usual minute silences where teams face each other in the middle of the pitch; the French and English players mixed and stood together in a show of defiance against those who are trying to bring their nations down.
Once again, the passion and love for football has brought fans, players and staff together – breaking down the boundaries that categorise beliefs, cultures, religions and experiences into separate entities. The recorded attendance of the game was 71,233 people and there was actually an increase in ticket sales following the Paris attacks. If anything, the match going ahead showed that in times like the awful events in Paris, sport can bring both empowerment and unity. This act of togetherness is something that I’ll never forget.
Together we stand. Nous Sommes Unis.