England v France: Genuine friendly fixture was a truly special occasion following the Paris attacks
You know it must be a special occasion when more than 70,000 English rise to belt out a stirring rendition of one of their traditional rivals’ national anthems.
When supporters greet the emergence of the opposition team for their warm-up, some 50 minutes before kick-off, with a standing ovation.
Or when the parading of a huge Tricolore on the pitch prompts sections of the crowd to rise and affectionately applaud.
And last night at Wembley was a truly special occasion. Not for the football — which for all of England’s moments of promise was naturally something of sideshow, even by international standards — but for the palpable sense of something bigger than that.
For England to show how much it cared for France, still grieving for the 129 slaughtered by terrorists in Paris on Friday.
For a friendly fixture to be genuinely that: friendly. And for a match’s mere occurrence, while games in Germany and Belgium were being cancelled due to security concerns, to feel like a triumph.
Home supporters did themselves proud with a hearty stab at Le Marseillaise, while the floral tribute presented by the Duke of Cambridge was one of several classy gestures for which the Football Association deserves credit.
The introduction of Les Bleus substitute Lassana Diarra, who chose to play in this game despite his cousin being killed in the attacks on the French capital, drew huge cheers.
Perhaps the most poignant moment of all, however, was the impeccably observed moment’s silence — a spectacular quiet, heavy with sorrow and dignity. Special indeed.