England will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with France just days after the Paris atrocities for an international friendly that FA chief executive Martin Glenn says will show the world “terrorism can’t win”.
What was supposed to be an important preparation match ahead of Euro 2016 has instead become a powerful, poignant occasion as the first major event since a night in the French capital that horrified the world.
Multiple terrorist attacks across Paris on Friday saw 129 murdered, with France midfielder Lassana Diarra’s cousin Asta Diakite amongst them.
The sister of another French footballer, Antoine Griezmann, managed to escape the mass killing at the Bataclan theatre that claimed 89 lives on a night when the sound of explosions outside the Stade de France reverberated around the ground during France’s friendly with Germany.
Despite the attacks and the indelible mark they have left, it was decided Les Bleus’ friendly against England should go ahead tonight as planned – a symbolic encounter of far greater important than a game of football. “The match is going to have a massive global significance,” FA chief executive Glenn told a packed press conference at England’s team hotel.
“It’s the first big event since the tragedy of last Friday. That’s why I think it is important for us to be supportive of them, to do something great together, to demonstrate that terrorism can’t win.
“The eyes of the world will be on us tomorrow, not just the French and the English people.”
That strength of feeling has been represented by English fans, with Glenn saying there has been a surge in ticket sales since the horrors of Friday.
The colours of the Tricolore will be beamed onto the Wembley arch in a show of respect, while a fan mosaic will be complemented by the Marseillaise lyrics being shown on the Wembley screens. Both teams will wear black armbands and observe a minute’s silence at a match for which there will understandably be heightened security, with the Met’s Specialist Crime and Operations unit confirming armed police will be deployed at Wembley.
“We would like fans to turn up a bit earlier, we will be doing more checks,” Glenn said. “There will be more physical police presence, more physical law enforcement officers and signs of them, a slower entrance procedure.
“Get there that little bit earlier, allow more time to travel. The match starts at five to eight not 8pm. We want to spend five minutes on very important ways of showing our teams, our country’s solidarity with France.”
England captain Wayne Rooney and manager Roy Hodgson echoed those sentiments, with the latter admitting he is struggling to balance a “tragedy of this immense proportion” with playing a football match.
“The French authorities were clear that they wanted the game to go ahead. We’ll do our best to make a really good game of it, but we can’t deny the seriousness of the situation. This is not a normal friendly. It will be lingering over everybody.”
“It’s a sad time,” Rooney said. “But I think football globally does a lot for the world, it shows everyone as a unit. Football has the power to do that and I think the world of football needs to stay strong together. I’m sure football will help bring everyone together.”
Meanwhile, France captain Hugo Lloris hopes tonight’s will be a show of solidarity as well as a chance to “escape” from the drama affecting his homeland.
The decision to face England came from French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet and, although Lloris admitted to having doubts, he supports it.
He said: “The president made the best decision, I think, to play this game. Of course we are human and we had doubts, whether to play or not, to go home or stay together, but I think it was well managed by the coach and the technical staff.
“The last three days were dramatic. We were in mourning all together, we spent some time at Clairefontaine (national football academy). We will try to escape from it for one hour and 30 minutes. There will be a lot of emotion from the players, but it will be a great moment of solidarity. It will be an opportunity for us to show character and share this moment with all the English people.”
Coach Didier Deschamps called on his side to represent their country with pride in trying circumstances.
He said: “We’re here and we will take the field, representing our country with ever more pride than we normally would and to make sure those colours of blue, white and red are represented even more proudly than they normally would.”