Sunday 24 September 2017

Defiant France fans show appreciation to the world at Wembley ahead of England game

Fans in the stands holding a flag reading
Fans in the stands holding a flag reading "Thanks to the world le Chagnot" in tribute to the victims of the terror attack in Paris prior to the international friendly match at Wembley Stadium
A France fan in the stands wears a France football shirt in tribute to the victims of the terror attack in Paris prior to the international friendly match at Wembley Stadium
A France fan in the stands prior to the international friendly match at Wembley
Football fans wave French flags before the start of the friendly football match between England and France at Wembley Stadium
Football fans hold up a French flag before the start of the friendly football match between England and France at Wembley
Football fans are pictured before the start of the friendly football match between England and France at Wembley
A football fan holds up a French flag before the start of the friendly football match between England and France at Wembley
France's headcoach Didier Deschamps (L) is pictured on the pitch before the start of the friendly football match between England and France at Wembley
France's headcoach Didier Deschamps (L) is pictured on the pitch before the start of the friendly football match between England and France at Wembley
A football fan wears a French shirt and an England hat as he waits the start of the friendly football match between England and France at Wembley Stadium
France fans are pictured before the start of the friendly football match between England and France at Wembley
Two British Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officers (CTSFO) carry their machine guns as they patrol inside Wembley

Simon Peach

England and France fans joined in solidarity outside Wembley on a night of heightened security and emotions.

What was supposed to be an important friendly in preparation for Euro 2016 instead became a powerful, poignant occasion, following the events in Paris that horrified the world.

Multiple terrorist attacks across the French capital on Friday saw at least 129 murdered - among them France midfielder Lassana Diarra's cousin Asta Diakite - making the Wembley encounter an important show of solidarity and strength.

One group of visiting fans sung national anthem La Marseillaise on Wembley Way, holding a French flag with 'Thank to the world' written on it, while others held a Union Jack which featured the universal sign for peace combined with the Eiffel Tower.

Supporters posed for photos outside the stadium as kick-off approached, with one France fan, Jean-Michel Escoffier, explaining he bought tickets this morning in order to stand with his countrymen.

"It is very important," he told Press Association Sport. "Normally I am not here, but I came after the problem of Friday in France.

"I bought them this morning and got the train alone because my friend told me I was crazy.

"What happened on Friday is horrible and I came to help a little the families of those who lost lives and those who died.

"It is fabulous what they have done with the stadium and the support - thanks England very much for this."

Escoffier was pointing to the colours of the Tricolore beamed onto the Wembley arch, which was also shown on screens that had Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite - France's national motto - up in lights.

Prince William, Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were due to be among the expected 75,000 crowd at Wembley, where stepped-up security was visible hours before the match.

Armed police were outside main entrances to the stadium, complemented by extra security procedures on entrance to the ground.

Fans were encouraged to arrive earlier to go through the extra searches and be in their seats in order to pay tribute in a minute's silence before the 8pm kick-off.

London Mayor Boris Johnson insisted there was no evidence to suggest England's friendly with France was in danger of becoming a target for terrorists in light of the attacks on Paris.

There were three suicide bomb attacks at the Stade de France as Les Bleus played Germany in a friendly on Friday.

But Johnson told BBC Radio 5 Live that while London had stepped up its defence, he had received no intelligence that pointed to a repeat of Friday's attacks.

"The crucial thing to get over is this is business as normal for London," said Johnson.

"It's very important we put on proper security, but there is absolutely no evidence that there is a direct threat to this match, there is no intelligence to suggest there is a terrorist problem. On the contrary, it is business as normal."

Harry Redknapp, who managed Diarra at Portsmouth briefly in 2008, says the 30-year-old midfielder is a "strong character" and would have made his feelings clear if he did not want to play at Wembley.

Diarra's cousin was among the 129 people murdered in the Paris attacks and Redknapp believes it will be a difficult occasion for the Marseille player.

"He's a very strong character, but like everyone he has to have been affected by what's happened," Redknapp told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"I'm sure he would have said if he didn't want to play.

"I will text him after the game, tomorrow. I'm sure he's been inundated."

Press Association

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