Since the terror attacks across the French capital 10 days ago, touching tributes and signs of solidarity have poured forward from just about every club, national team and footballing organization around the world.
The club most synonymous with Paris — Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain — will on Wednesday play their first home game, versus Malmo in the UEFA Champions League, since the Nov. 13 attacks, and will do so bearing that simple yet powerful message front and center across their chests.
In tribute to the victims of November 13 attacks, the Paris Saint-Germain players will wear a special jersey which only bears the message “JE SUIS PARIS” and nothing else for their next two matches: against Malmo in the Champions League on Wednesday night and again, on Saturday in their Ligue 1 home match against Troyes.
This message of unity will appear on the shirt in the space usually occupied by our main partner Emirates.
The President of Paris Saint-Germain Nasser Al-Khelaifi would like to “especially thank the Club’s partners Emirates, as well as Ooredoo and QNB, who have released their space on the players’ jerseys.”
As La Marseillaise is heard at PL stadiums following the coin toss of all 10 games to honor those killed in the Paris terrorist attacks last Friday, it will provide a poignant moment of remembrance for those lost.
It will also serve as a reminder of just how closely linked the Premier League and France have become.
More French players play in the PL than any other foreign nationality. At the moment 72 Frenchman are registered with Premier League clubs and the strong bond and connection shared between the league’s rise over the past two decades — plus the French imports who have helped it grow — make this moment of solidarity, defiance and support over the weekend even more important.
That strong Anglo-French bond has been built over the last 23 years and since the PL’s inception in 1992 more French players (191) have graced the league than any other foreign nation, beating both Scotland (188) and the Republic of Ireland (156). Countless heroes have hopped across the English Channel and into the PL from France over the years.
“I think it’s a nice gesture of solidarity,” Wenger said. “It’s not an obvious one for the fans, just like it would not be an obvious one for fans in France to sing God Save The Queen, because they don’t know the words. Symbolically it’s a very nice gesture.”
Fifteen of the Premier League’s 20 teams currently have French players in their first-team squad, all of whom will be hugely appreciative of the support from the whole of English soccer this weekend, plus there are other PL players who were born and raised in France but play for other nations internationally.
“Given how close we are as well as the long-standing relationship that exists between the Premier League and France, playing La Marseillaise as an act of solidarity and remembrance is the right thing to do,” Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore said. “We were all saddened and deeply shocked by the events in Paris last Friday, and the fact it was an attack on people enjoying their everyday freedoms like going to a bar, a concert or a football match resonates with football fans and the general public throughout the UK.”
Across the rest of Europe this weekend there will be a minute-silence in Spain’s top two divisions, while games will go ahead in Ligue 1, France’s top-flight, without any away fans allowed. Moments of remembrance are also planned across other European leagues.
Thirteen of France’s 23-man squad for that game were either currently playing or had played in England during their career and for some, noticeably Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny who was in tears during the anthem, the moment seemed too much to handle. Arsenal, Aston Villa and Newcastle United each have at least five French born players in their first-team squads as the events of last Friday hit home hardest at those clubs.
During the PL games this Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the victims of the attacks in France will be honored across a country where their countryman have delivered countless memorable moments on the soccer pitch.
This weekend, honoring those lost and the values of the French nation which is inextricably linked with England will provide another somber yet memorable moment as the Premier League’s bond with France continues to go from strength to strength.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Sport in general and in particular football, which is the most popular worldwide, has always been a symbol and represents important values. After these events, these values are even more important,” Deschamps said. “Those present on the field of sport tomorrow night have a duty of representing and symbolizing the values of sport. Throughout my career as a coach, football has always had an important function in everyday life. Globally, it has a strong role in society. Sport and football is a way of life in many nations. It is a strong symbol and players can give a great example and be role models on how to behave. The key, to my eye, is that we have the chance to represent those beautiful colors of blue, white and red and we will do that with pride.”
Well over 80,000 fans are expected at Wembley — the FA have revealed that ticket sales have actually increased over the weekend as fans want to show support for France — in what is a high-profile fixture between neighboring countries who have always been great rivals on and off the pitch. All of that now goes to one side. It is not about the game, it is rather about an occasion which represents solidarity, unity and a collective belief that the terrorists who seek to attack the very fabrics of not only French society but those of nations across the globe, will not succeed.
This act of defiance from the French national team in the face of mourning is remarkable. Lassana Diarra, who started in central midfield for France in Paris on Friday, lost his cousin Asta Diakite in the attacks. Striker Antoine Griezmann’s sister was caught up in the attack on the Bataclan but escaped unharmed. This tragedy has closely touched this team but they were adamant that the game must be played.
The game will be beamed across the world as everyone will see how powerful sport can be in times of tragedy. Following the attacks three days of mourning were declared in France by President Francois Hollande as well as a state of emergency. On the fourth day after the attacks, France will play England and the occasion will act as a small way of helping to heal the wounds of a nation in deep sorrow.
“We have been together and talked together as a group, it has been dramatic few days and very hard,” Lloris said. “We have been trying to keep focused and while at Clairefontaine trying to keep up with the news. We are now trying to focus our minds on doing the job on the field; to play for our country and play for the victims… Tomorrow will be a great moment of solidarity. I think the president made the best decision to play this game. It will be an opportunity to show character through that game and allow us to share this moment with all the English people.”
The fact that England are France’s opponents and the game will be played in London is poignant. Both nations and aforementioned cities have been targets for terrorist attacks in Europe over the last decade. In many ways London and Paris mirror one another and the fact that 13 of France’s 23-man squad either currently play or have played for English teams means the bond they have to the nation is strong. Many of these French players will feel at home in England, playing against current or former teammates who represent the English national team.
“The horrific atrocities perpetrated in Paris on Friday were an attack on our very way of life, our freedom, our democracy,” Mayor of London Boris Johnson said. “Of course we can never be complacent, and tomorrow’s game will be policed appropriately, but I can’t think of a better riposte to this ideology of hate than to carry on with our lives, our loves and our passions.”
With the famous Wembley arch lit in the red, white and blue of France, the country’s motto — Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite — emblazoned on the front of the home of soccer, plans for home fans to create a giant mosaic of the triclore before kick off and home fans urged by the English authorities to sing the French national anthem before kick off with the lyrics to La Marseillaise put on the big screens, the feeling of unity and solidarity will be strong.
“There will be a lot of emotion from the players but we are in London and people here are respectful,” Lloris, who is captain and goalkeeper for Tottenham Hotspur in London said. “It will be a great moment of solidarity. We have been touched by messages from all over the globe, particularly in England. I know the English very well from my time with Tottenham and I know they will help us to commemorate and do the right thing and support us before the game and we are very grateful for the messages. It’s important for us that for a group of players who will sing together and share that moment. It will be amazing if the England fans can sing the Marseillaise, and share in this moment.”
It is, of course, not only in England that this solidarity has shone through in the midst of tragedy. Throughout the soccer and sporting world over the past few days we have seen a huge show of support for the people of Paris and France to honor those who were killed. Teams across college football in the U.S., the NFL and numerous American sports showed their support and it wasn’t just in the sporting world either with famous landmarks across the world lit up in red, white and blue to show Parisians they are not on their own.
Germany, the nation France were playing last Friday when suicide bombers reportedly tried to get in the Stade de France before blowing themselves up outside the stadium and as other horrendous attacks were carried out across the French capital, will play their bitter rivals the Netherlands in a friendly in Hanover on Tuesday. Head coach of the German national team, Joachim Low, first of all thanked Deschamps and his team for staying with the German players in the depths of the Stade de France on Friday following the game. The visitors could not exit the stadium safely and stayed the night, united with the French players and staff as the tragedies unfolded.
“I think it was a great gesture by the French team and by Deschamps,” Low said. “They offered us to stay overnight in their hotel and that they would clear a number of rooms. They also waited until it was clear that we would fly directly to Germany.”
There was some trepidation from the German players, when their team hotel in Paris was subject of a bomb scare earlier on Friday but it turned out to be a hoax, about playing the Netherlands on Tuesday but Low summed up the defiant mood.
“After sleeping on it, it was clear to us that the match must take place,” Low said. “The match has a clear message for freedom and democracy but also for solidarity with France. Our thoughts tomorrow will be with the victims and their families… I hope that the sporting rivalry between Germany and the Netherlands will now take a backseat and the match will now take on another valuation. I’m of the opinion that if we understand the meaning of the match, we have won. No matter what the result will be.”
In terms of the role the home team will play at Wembley on Tuesday, manager Roy Hodgson, captain Wayne Rooney and English FA chief executive officer Martin Glenn spoke to the media on Monday and emphasized the magnitude of the occasion.
“I understand fully that the French authorities had a very clear opinion on the topic and they wanted the game to go ahead so for us it was very easy to go along with that. As a result we will do our best to make a really good game of it but we can’t deny the seriousness of the occasion,” Hodgson said. “We can’t deny that this game is special. It is not a normal friendly because it is occurring four days after this unbelievable terror attack and unfortunately that is going to be lingering over everybody whether we like it or not.”
That notion of the world standing tall and uniting for France in its time of need once again appeared.
“I think globally football does a lot for the world,” Rooney said. “It shows that everyone as a unit, the world as one and football has the power to do that. The world of football has to stay strong together. I am sure everyone will do that and deal with the situation as best as us as players, the fans, know how to do. I am sure football will help bring people together.”
“The global nature of the game is really important,” Glenn added. “It was important that the French authorities wanted to do it. The match tomorrow is going to have massive global significance. It is the first big event that has happened since the tragedy of last Friday. I think it is important for us to be totally supportive of them and do something great together to demonstrate that terrorism can’t win. The eyes of the world are going to be on Wembley tomorrow, not just the French and English people.”
Deschamps was defiant as he prepares to lead his team against England with the world watching on, just four days after the stadium he and his team last played in was targeted by terrorists.
“We are here now to take to the field to represent our country. With even more pride than we normally would and make sure the blue, white and red are proudly represented by the players on the field,” Deschamps said. “It is the very first time a stadium, football players and supporters have been a target for a terrorist attack. But sport has a way of uniting people, sport is the very representation of economic and social life; everyday life. I have always said that it is a huge source of pride for me to represent my country in sport and that has become even more important now. Sport represents a union of diversity and diversity coming together.”
President of the French Football Federation Noel Le Graet spoke to Canal+, saying the stadium was evacuated after the match.
There was a bomb explosion at the entrance to Gate J. Three deaths and some injured.
At this time, the stadium is secure. People can exit normally. The president [Francois Hollande] had to leave at a very early stage because of the shootings that took place in Paris to join the Interior Ministry.
The French national team is scheduled to play a friendly in London against England on Tuesday, however that match is likely to be cancelled. A spokesperson with the English FA has said talks will be held with the French Federation to discuss the matter.