Chris Holt Column: Wembley unity proved show must go on in face of adversity

England players stand together with their French counterparts
England players stand together with their French counterparts
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On the face of it, many will have seen it as a difficult call but the French Football Federation’s relatively quick decision to continue with their plans to travel to London for their pre-arranged friendly with England probably didn’t cause too much debate among the footballing hierarchy.

Of course, they will have had to make the necessary security arrangements following the most heinous atrocity to hit their country since the war, and they will have taken guidance from those in seats of power much higher than they, but those decision makers are essentially like you and I. They are sports fans.

And so, like us, they will have been all too aware of the power of sport and its ability to bring people together in the face of adversity; to offer a sense of normality when there are those who are attempting to take that normality from us.

It’s not a selfishness or a lack of empathy that drives sports fans to attempt to forget what is happening in the ‘real’ world, it is a fundamental belief that nothing, but nothing should stop us all from doing the things we like to do.

Perhaps it was a Belfast upbringing in the 80s and 90s. Maybe it was the fact that Northern Ireland haven’t qualified for a major international football tournament in 30 years, but not once in the aftermath of what had unfolded in Paris on Friday night did I think to myself, ‘I’m not going to go to the European Championships in France next summer, after that.’ The reason for that is, again, not skewed priorities or a lack tact, but the feeling that if we all make that decision then this ‘war’ has been lost.

The perpetrators of such barbarism will have been victorious in replacing the joy that we all experience in watching our team, or our favourite band or even eating and drinking in our favourite restaurant or bar, with fear and trepidation about merely leaving the house.

Fans leave Wembley Stadium in London after the French football team played England

Fans leave Wembley Stadium in London after the French football team played England

The vast majority of Welsh and English fans who had made early arrangements to watch their team at Euro 2016 will have felt the same. As will those from Germany, or Portugal, or Spain.

So the unity shown at Wembley on Tuesday night was welcome, but not surprising. England’s fans and the FA were the perfect hosts. The sight of French flags scattered through the home crowd was poignant; the huge tricolore mosaic in the stand an act of defiance, a signal to those who attempt to secularise societies, that rivalries will be put aside when necessary.

For French fans, they were given the opportunity to see first hand the wider support they have outside of their own country but more importantly, they were given a couple of hours to try and forget what had happened.

Here in Sheffield, those at Bramall Lane on Saturday joined many around the UK in holding a minutes silence for those who lost their lives in Paris. Had they been playing, no doubt Wednesday would have joined their United counterparts in doing the same.

Fans paint french flags on each others faces in the stands at Wembley

Fans paint french flags on each others faces in the stands at Wembley

The period of reflection was impeccibly observed and that’s because what happened across the Channel could have easily been replicated in any British city, near any football ground. Yet we mustn’t allow anyone to stop us congragating in the way that we have always done.

Sheffield United players line up for a minutes silence for the victims of the terror attacks in Paris

Sheffield United players line up for a minutes silence for the victims of the terror attacks in Paris