Football takes a backseat as Wembley honours Paris victims

Date published: Tuesday 17th November 2015 10:29

England: Sing the National Anthem ahead of France game

TEAMtalk looks at how England and France poignantly stood together at Wembley as football united against Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris.

For a few fleeting moments, when Dele Alli wheeled away in triumph after scoring a delicious debut goal in the 39th minute at Wembley, one might have been forgiven for assuming normal service had resumed.

The home fans rose with a boisterous roar as the Tottenham youngster strode towards the byline, both arms aloft. His team-mates seemed only too happy to join him in marking his momentous strike.

By the same token, when Wayne Rooney lashed a second shortly into the second half to set up England’s 2-0 victory, the genuine thrill was palpable. A handful more kisses to the heavens, perhaps, but otherwise very much as you would expect.

But tear your eyes from the action and it was not hard to find the poignant reminders that it was an extraordinary night, one forged from unspeakable tragedy, and that the mere fact the game was being played at all was the real triumph.

The Wembley arch gleaming the colours of the French Tricolore; the three floral wreaths laid by Prince William and coaches Roy Hodgson and Didier Deschamps, which remained on the edge of the technical areas.

England and France observe a minute's silence to remember Paris' victims

Trite as it might sound, this truly was a night of liberty, fraternity and equality: a night on which, as evidenced amid the three-coloured placards magnanimously held aloft by the home fans before kick-off, the half-and-half scarf sellers have probably never known such demand.

As evidenced again in the 59th minute when Lassana Diarra, whose cousin Asta Diakite was killed in the terrorist attacks, came on as a substitute to a standing ovation.

As evidenced in the fact that in this famous stadium, both in its gleaming new guise and that of its crumbling old predecessor, the emotions can surely never have felt stirred quite so much as in the moment the Coldstream Guards and supporters from both sides of the Channel began to belt out the pre-match La Marseillaise.

Not one of the the squad members rejected the opportunity to feature at Wembley – not even Diarra nor Antoine Griezmann, whose sister survived the shooting at the Bataclan – when canvassed by Deschamps.

“We fully respect the decision of the French Football Federation to be here tonight,” read an additional excerpt to the match programme, “and hopefully the occasion will show that the football world is united against these atrocities.”

It is entirely fitting that football, which found itself at the unwitting centre of the shocking narrative emerging from Paris last Friday night, should present such a poignant and high-profile display of unity.

Yet amid the kind of moving ceremony the sport has proven over the years to do so well – the scarves on the Kop; the sustained minutes of applause which scatter British grounds on a weekly basis in the names of fallen heroes – must come the acknowledgement that the redemptive power of sport remains a purely subjective conceit.

Football alone does not own, and nor does it claim to own, the qualities required to defy the kind of terror inflicted on Paris on Friday night. It will not ease the heart-wrenching grief, nor change the minds of those intent on committing future atrocities.

Neither Alli’s debut goal nor the clinical finish from Rooney will mask the fact that – for the time being at least – life cannot go on entirely as normal.

In this respect lurked reminders too: beneath the filled red tiers, hidden from public view, a van-full of armed, masked soldiers stretched their legs. Meanwhile, in Hanover, the match between Germany and Holland was cancelled barely one hour before kick-off due to a security threat.

The moving scenes at Wembley were merely one small part of a much greater whole: a defiance mirrored at every rock concert, every Parisian pavement cafe, every way in which we continue to live the kinds of normal lives that the terrorists abhor.

That is at the root of the reason why the final score and all that usually comes with it – the marks-out-of-10, the tactical analysis, the manager’s opinion on out-of-form strikers and up-and-coming aces – really did not matter.

Because all those who defied the desire to spread hatred by coming to Wembley, by congregating en masse and embracing a nation’s anthem whose opening bars would so often be drowned in boos, had already ensured the right result.

Mark Staniforth

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