Behind-the-scenes on emotional night at Wembley for England-France


LONDON — Walking up Wembley Way on a cool, windy November night in London, the humongous arch which hangs over Wembley Stadium was lit up in the red, white and blue of France.

[ MORE: France react to “special” night ]

The tricolore shone brightly and hung over the entire stadium to remind the fans, players and everybody else in the stadium why we were all at this particular friendly match between England and France.

It was all about honoring the 129 people killed by terrorists in Paris last Friday. About standing together and uniting as one.

Over the past few days I’ve found myself wandering around my house in London humming the French national anthem. Full disclosure, I’ve always been a big fan of La Marseillaise even though I don’t speak French and don’t know what the words of the anthem mean. I’ve often thought when watching it being played before sporting events: “Man, I’m not French but hearing that fires me up.” The English national anthem and others is a little more somber but the French anthem is anything but. At Wembley everyone — the home fans were urged to sing the anthem with the lyrics on the big screens and English newspapers publishing the lyrics on the back pages — got to belt out the famous anthem as one.

Its result, as I’m sure you will agree from the video below, was spectacular.

A few weeks ago I circled Nov. 17 on my calendar: England hosting France at Wembley Stadium. I’ve been looking forward to attending this game for quite some time. It was a chance to see two nations square off who are littered with world-class talent but haven’t faced many tests over the past 12 months due to the fact France automatically qualified for EURO 2016 as hosts and England’s qualifying group was ridiculously weak as they won every single game. This was a chance to see where both teams were at seven months before the European Championships in France began. Then the atrocities occurred in Paris and this game, which was in severe doubt of taking place, took on a whole new meaning.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17: Armed Police Officers stand outside Wembley Stadium ahead of tonight's International friendly match between England and France at Wembley Stadium on November 17, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)

As it became clear that the French Football Federation wanted it to be played, a swell of emotion and pride arrived throughout both nations. I imagined the sight of French and English fans all coming together as one at Wembley, the home of soccer, to show solidarity and prove to those who carried out the attacks in Paris that they will not win. That was exactly the case on Tuesday. Armed police were deployed by the British government and when another high-profile friendly in Europe, Belgium vs. Spain, was abandoned on Monday due to safety fears the anxiety levels around this game grew a little. But, as I’ve heard many people all over the world say in the past four days: “we can’t live in fear.”

<> at Wembley Stadium on November 17, 2015 in London, England.

Jumping onto the tube to make the 30-minute journey from my home across London, there was a sense of calm until you got close to stadium.

Walking out of Wembley Park station, Wembley Way was ahead of me and the glistening gladiatorial stadium at the end was a majestic sight to behold decked out in the red, white and blue and the French motto “Liberte, egalite, fraternite” emblazoned across the outside of the venue. The home of the world’s game was ready to show the watching world that not only England and France stood as one against terrorism, but so did the entire planet. A crowd of over 71,000 filled Wembley as English FA officials revealed that only 100 tickets were returned and ticket sales had unexpectedly soared over the weekend with fans wanting to attend the game, a spectacle and occasion which had now become something bigger than a friendly between England and France.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17: French fans pose for photos holding a french flag with the Wembley arch lit up in french colours in the background as they arrive ahead of tonight's International friendly match between England and France on November 17, 2015 in London, England. Security in London has tightened after a series of terror attacks across the French capital of Paris on Friday, leaving at least 129 people dead and hundreds more injured. (Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)

Armed police, something pretty uncommon to see in England, lined Wembley Way and patrolled the side-streets leading up to the stadium. Police helicopters hovered overhead and fans mixed with one another. England fans whistled La Marseillaise and broke out chants of “allez les bleus” as they walked along with their friends, while groups of French supporters also broke out in song.

Inside the stadium, the press room was awash with camaraderie as journalists from across the globe, but chiefly England and France, chatted about the terrible events of last Friday. Soon, the mood turned slightly sour. TVs in the press lounge showed scenes from Hanover as police evacuated the stadium and Germany’s friendly vs. Holland was canceled due to a reported suspicious package at the stadium. After Belgium vs. Spain was canceled the day before, nerves were in the air around Wembley. Fans inside the stadium, overall, seemed to still be in a jovial yet thoughtful mood as they posed for photos with one another before kick off.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17: Both teams stand together for a moment of applause prior to the International Friendly match between England and France at Wembley Stadium on November 17, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

In attendance at Wembley where British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson and the head of the English FA the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William. They led the proceedings before the game along with Roy Hodgson, Didier Deschamps and the heads of the FA and FFF by laying floral tributes for the victims. As the players stood and awaited the French national anthem England’s fans lifted a tricolore mosaic to create a marvelously patriotic scene and a home away from home for the French players. Then, the moment which would help symbolize the togetherness of two neighboring nations: the anthem. La Marseillaise was simply majestic but what was equally, or more so in my eyes, moving was the impeccably observed minute silence as players from both teams gathered around the center circle. Wembley stood silent to remember those killed and it was a real lump in the throat moment.

The game itself was largely uneventful as France’s players looked understandably subdued and England’s largely second-string side impressed with teenager Dele Alli curling in a beauty and Wayne Rooney adding a second as the Three Lions won 2-0. A Mexican wave began in the 26th minute amid the friendly atmosphere as players of both teams helped one another up after falling down and plenty of hugs and high fives were on show. The respect from both sets of players was evident. Chants of “allez les bleus” came from the small contingent of French fans who also sporadically sung La Marseillaise.

Lassana Diarra, whose cousin Asta Diakite was killed in the attacks on Friday, came on as a second half sub and Wembley stood as one and applauded to salute his bravery in the face of personal tragedy.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17: The words 'Liberte, Igalite, Fraternite' and the colours of the French flag adorn Wembley Stadium ahead of tonight's football match between England and France on November 17, 2015 in London, England. Security in London has tightened after a series of terror attacks across the French capital of Paris on Friday, leaving at least 129 people dead and hundreds more injured. (Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)

The mood was somber, reflective and even the goal celebrations from England’s players were low-key. Respect for those lost in Paris was shown throughout the occasion and the English FA should be commended for the fine job they did to honor France’s fallen. After the final whistle France’s players looked relieved the game was over as they huddled together and saluted their fans at one end of the stadium. At that moment the England band began to play La Marseillaise for one final time as the French and English players walked off the pitch together and down the tunnel.

during the International Friendly match between England and France at Wembley Stadium on November 17, 2015 in London, England.

It wasn’t about the game on Tuesday. It was about solidarity and how sport can play a small part in helping to heal a nation in a time of great tragedy.

Racist abuse delays England v. Bulgaria qualifier

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England raced out to an impressive 4-0 lead at Bulgaria by halftime, but the wonderful attacking display was marred by horrendous incidents from the crowd.

The match in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria was stopped on two occasions with announcements being made to ask sections of the crowd to stop their abusive language. This comes with the stadium already serving a partial stadium closure due to racist chanting from the crowd in previous qualifiers.

Below is UEFA’s protocol on how to intervene in these situations, and what transpired from lead writer Joe Prince-Wright.

Tottenham re-signs goalkeeper Vorm

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With Hugo Lloris set to miss at least another two months of action with a broken elbow, Tottenham has turned to a familiar face to provide some cover between the pipes.

Tottenham announced Monday it had re-signed goalkeeper Michel Vorm to a contract through the end of the 2019-2020 Premier League season. Vorm spent five seasons with Tottenham after signing from Swansea City in 2014. However, after playing second-fiddle to Lloris and later serving as the third backup behind current Tottenham No. 2, Paulo Gazzaniga for the past couple of seasons, Vorm was released at the end of last season.

Its certainly a boost for Tottenham that a player with a long history at the club and plenty of experience was available to help in this situation. Similar to Liverpool picking up Adrian after Alisson Becker’s injury, Tottenham know what it’s getting in Vorm and may play him a few times if Gazzaniga needs a night off in the next few months.

According to Vorm, he had been home in his native Netherlands and was watching the game when he saw Lloris get injured.

“Obviously I saw straight away that he had a bad injury and at the time I thought about how bad it was, Vorm told Tottenham’s website. “After the game I spoke with Jan (Vertonghen), he told me what was going on and I spoke also with Toni (Jimenez, our goalkeeping coach) and, yes, during the week I got the phone call to ask if I was open to come back and help out. I’ve kept in contact with a lot of the players and also with Toni. We were speaking quite regularly and on Thursday he called me, we had the conversation and from there on, it went very quickly.”

In his five seasons with Tottenham, Vorm made a total of 47 appearances in all competitions. He saw plenty of time in the League Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Europa League and Champions League during his stay at White Hart Lane.

In-form striker Duvan Zapata injured on international duty

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This international break has been particularly brutal to clubs who have seen a host of key players go down with injuries, and there’s still a few days of matches remaining.

The latest player to succumb to injury is Atalanta striker Duvan Zapata who returned from Colombia duty with an adductor strain and will miss at least three weeks, according to Sky Sports Italia (via FootballItalia). Zapata went down 23 minutes into Colombia’s 0-0 friendly draw with Chile on Friday and was sent back to Italy for tests at his club.

Those tests have reportedly confirmed the initial fears. The loss of Zapata is a massive one for Atalanta, as the 28-year-old has been steadily building for years and is having a breakout start to this campaign, scoring six Serie A goals in seven matches plus one more in Champions League play, currently on a run of four consecutive games with a goal across all competitions. With Zapata’s help, Atalanta sits third in the Serie A table, having bagged the most goals of any team with 18 through seven games.

Zapata becomes the latest high-profile injury from this international break, joining Colombia teammate Alexis Sanchez who went down late in the same match and is reportedly out until 2020 with a serious ankle injury. Chelsea has been hit the hardest, with Andreas Christensen, Mateo Kovacic, and Reese James all pulling up while N’Golo Kante was injured in France warmups but he is expected to be fit for the weekend. Luka Modric may miss time after going down in a Euro qualifier against Wales, while Gareth Bale also picked up a knock in that match. Neymar went down in Brazil’s match against against Nigeria, which forced manager Tite to explain his reasoning for the selection in a friendly. Sergio Aguero is apparently struggling to train with Argentina thanks to a mystery injury confirmed by Lionel Scaloni. Arsenal’s Dani Ceballos withdrew from Spain training earlier in the week with “hamstring overload.” Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson left USMNT camp with a hamstring problem with the MLS playoffs on the horizon.

Ex-England midfielder Gascoigne on trial for sexual assault

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LONDON (AP) — A prosecutor has alleged that former England midfielder Paul Gascoigne sexually assaulted a woman on a train by “forcibly and sloppily” planting an unwanted kiss on her lips.

Prosecutor William Mousley’s comments Monday came as Gascoigne, who has struggled with alcohol and mental-health problems, went on trial at Teesside Crown Court charged with sexual assault of the female passenger.

Mousley said the former England star “put his hands on her cheeks and kissed her forcibly and sloppily on the lips.”

The 52-year-old Gascoigne denies the charge.

The alleged victim has told the court that she froze when the man, who appeared drunk, kissed her in August 2018. She says she did not realize it was Gascoigne until after the alleged incident.