Wembley stadium honours Paris victims with French anthem

Along with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince William, many stood to sing 'La Marseillaise' four days on from the attacks.

AFP| Last Updated: Nov 18, 2015, 12:06 PM IST
Wembley stadium honours Paris victims with French anthem

London: A moving rendition of the French national anthem reverberated around London's Wembley Stadium last night as fans of England and France paid tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks.

In a crowd of 71,223 that included British Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince William, many stood to sing 'La Marseillaise' four days on from the attacks, which left 129 people dead and over 350 injured.

England won the match 2-0 courtesy of goals from Dele Alli and captain Wayne Rooney, but the outcome of the contest was a mere anecdote on a night heavy with poignancy.

France midfielder Lassana Diarra, who lost a cousin in the attacks, and team-mate Antoine Griezmann, whose sister escaped the massacre at the Bataclan concert hall, both came on in the second half.

Diarra, a former player with English sides Chelsea, Arsenal and Portsmouth, was granted a warm round of applause as he came on.

There was a heavy police presence outside the ground, while two armed counter-terror police officers were seen patrolling beside the pitch prior to kick-off.

The friendly between Germany and the Netherlands scheduled to take place in Hanover yesterday had earlier been cancelled, with German police citing a "serious" bomb threat, while Belgium's game with Spain was also called off.

Last Friday's attacks in Paris had started with three suicide bombers blowing themselves up outside the Stade de France while France played Germany in a friendly.

But supporters arriving at Wembley were relaxed, with one Malaysian fan telling AFP: "I have no fears at all. I believe that the British will provide the security necessary."

Breaking with convention, the Marseillaise was played after 'God Save the Queen' in order to create a stand-alone moment of solidarity, with the words to the anthem displayed on the stadium's big screens.

Many England fans had brought French flags to the stadium. One banner in the crowd, picking up a social media hashtag, read: "Pray for Paris."

Prior to the anthems, and a solemnly observed minute's silence, figures including Prince William, France coach Didier Deschamps, England manager Roy Hodgson, French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet and his English counterpart Greg Dyke laid floral tributes beside the pitch.

In a speech to his fellow dignitaries before the game, Dyke said: "Tonight is an opportunity for us, the English, to say to the people of Paris and to the people of France, 'We are with you, we support you -- tonight we are Parisians, tonight we are French.

"'We share in your grief, we share in your shock, but also we share in your determination not to be beaten.'"

The teams emerged from the tunnel accompanied by mascots wearing both France and England kits and led by children carrying a black flag bearing the French motto 'Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite' (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood).

Shortly before kick-off, the teams posed for a merged team photo, during which a standing ovation broke out around the ground.

Tottenham Hotspur's 19-year-old midfielder Alli, making his full debut, put England ahead with a 25-yard drive in the 39th minute and Rooney volleyed in his 51st international goal after the break.

Despite the Paris attacks, claimed by Islamic State, the FA said that only 100 tickets for yesterday's game had been returned. The final attendance was roughly 20,000 short of full capacity.

The communal singing of the Marseillaise followed a social media campaign taken up by British newspapers, many of which printed the words to the 220-year-old battle hymn on the morning of the match.

France and England's football associations decided that the game should go ahead, prompting an unprecedented security operation involving armed police patrols and extensive searches.

Prince William, who has the honorary role of FA president, changed his plans to attend in order to show "solidarity to the people of France".

FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan was also in attendance.

Fans arriving at Wembley were greeted by the sight of the stadium's giant arch illuminated in the blue, white and red of the French flag, while 'Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite' was shown on screens outside the ground.