18 November 2015

Wembley sings together for Paris

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“I’m not sure I can pronounce any of it, but I’ll give it a go…” England fans were well aware of our nation’s difficulties with foreign languages when we handed out lyrics to La Marseillaise to them at Wembley this evening, under the watchful gaze of Bobby Moore’s statue. But we  still ran out within a few minutes, writes Steve Ballinger – everyone knew straight away why we were doing it. Indeed, we all did.

They all knew they would sing two anthems this evening – and that this was no ordinary football friendly.

On Wembley Way, as we walked towards a Wembley Arch turned red, white and blue with ‘Liberte, Egalite, Franternite’ illuminated below, merchandise vans had sold out of ‘half n half scarves’ in the colours of England and France. An anomaly at most matches – who supports both teams? – they felt entirely apt at tonight’s game.

The atmosphere inside the ground was hard to describe. In many ways it didn’t feel that different – though the Englishman in front of me who were busy on their phone using paypal betting sites, probably wouldn’t usually wrap himself in France’s Tricolore flag. We sang ‘God Save the Queen’ with gusto. And then the French anthem, the words displayed on Wembley’s giant screens after a campaign on social media and Change.org asking the FA to help us all sing La Marseillaise. The French fans nearby us sang it loud and proud; the English joined in gamely, as one might with an obscure hymn at a wedding. But then the bit we could all get right – “Aux armes, citoyens! Formez vos bataillons! Marchons! Marchons!” – rang out from every voice in Wembley stadium – tens of thousands of voices singing together and reminding us why it was so important that this game should go ahead.

The match itself, only ever a friendly to give Roy Hodgson’s team a taste of playing higher quality opposition,  was wholly overshadowed by the events that proceeded it, as one might expect. England’s opening goal, the first in England colours for Tottenham’s Dele Alli, was a beauty. It was typical of England to win a game where the score didn’t matter.

There was a standing ovation when France’s Lassana Diarra took to the field in the second half, just days after learning that his cousin had been killed in the Paris massacre; and a brief reprise of the French anthem in the 89th minute, as supporters from France waved their flags. A rousing applause followed the final whistle.

Then we all tramped off to queue for the tube home. News that another friendly, in Germany, had been called off due to another security alert, provided a grim reminder that the atrocities in Paris were not a one-off – and that tonight’s game,  important symbol though it was, would not be enough on is own to keep us all safe. But we were glad, all the same, that we had been at Wembley tonight,  part of this important moment of solidarity between two nations.

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