Richard Sutcliffe: Amid the pain, Three Lions fans stand shoulder to shoulder with France

England players observe a minute of silence with their French counterparts before the international friendly match at Wembley Stadium. Press Association picture.
England players observe a minute of silence with their French counterparts before the international friendly match at Wembley Stadium. Press Association picture.
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Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. Under the giant Wembley arch - bathed once again this evening in the shades of Le Tricolore - could be found the words that embody the very essence of France.

Supporters arriving at Wembley Park tube station ahead of the international friendly between England and France couldn’t miss them.

Young fans in the stands with facepaint of France and England flags prior to the international friendly match at Wembley Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

Young fans in the stands with facepaint of France and England flags prior to the international friendly match at Wembley Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

Nor could the masses making their way sombrely into the stadium fail to notice the armed police that had been stationed along Olympic Way in response to the horror of last Friday night in Paris.

It was a sobering sight and one that added to the air of tension felt for much of the day in the capital, which was then further cranked up when news filtered through about 75 minutes before kick-off that Germany’s friendly with Holland in Hanover had been cancelled due to security concerns.

Amid the unease, however, was a clear sense of defiance among those who braved a cold London night to send out a message to those behind the atrocities in Paris.

It had been clear for days that France’s pain was England’s pain. But last night that unity was brought to life, as Three Lions fans stood shoulder to shoulder with their Gallic cousins in a manner rarely seen at a football match.

Amid the unease was a clear sense of defiance among those who braved a cold London night to send out a message to those behind the atrocities in Paris.

Tribalism can dominate at Wembley, even now at the rebuilt state-of-the-art sporting cathedral that is light years away from the old, crumbling stadium and the dark corners where the nastier elements of nationalism could be found.

But not tonight, as two nations came together in a most uplifting manner to prove, once and for all, sport’s ability to unite at the most difficult of times.

Shortly before kick-off, thousands of red, white and blue cards had been held up at the east end of Wembley by home fans to form a mosaic of the French flag. The gesture drew grateful applause from the 1,400 or so visiting fans who had made the trip across the Channel.

It was, though, the manner in which the locals then sang along to ‘La Marseillaise’ that truly warmed the soul.

England players stand side by side with their French counterparts before the international friendly match at Wembley Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

England players stand side by side with their French counterparts before the international friendly match at Wembley Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

There will have been more tuneful renditions of the French national anthem sung at sporting occasions in the past. There will also have been more rousing versions. But emotive? I am not so sure.

Certainly, tears were shed all over Wembley and not just in the away seats as fans - many who had clearly last tried to utter even a smidgen of French many years earlier when still at school - sang along as best they could to lyrics displayed on the two giants seats at either end of the national stadium.

‘Solidarite’ reigned among a capacity crowd, 10,000 of whom had snapped up tickets since Friday in a clear display of support for their neighbours across the Channel.

Chris Stuart, of Yeadon, Leeds, has not missed an England home game for 20 years. “A couple of our friends from Leeds decided not to come to Wembley even though they had tickets,” he said. “But the other four of us were never going to miss it. We can’t let the terrorists beat us.”

Such a stoical attitude is why even before the friendly match had kicked off, the biggest result of the night was already in. A victory for right over wrong.