France, England play soccer game 4 days after Paris attacks

Posted at 2:56 PM, Nov 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-17 15:56:32-05

LONDON (AP) — Four days after getting caught up in synchronized attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people, France's soccer team started its friendly game against England amid tightened security at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday.

In a powerful message of solidarity and unity, England fans joined their French counterparts in singing France's national anthem, "La Marseillaise," before the game. The words of the anthem were put up, in French, on the big screens at either end of the stadium.

A minute of silence for the victims of Friday's deadly blasts was impeccably observed, after floral tributes were laid beside the field by both coaches and Prince William.

Players from both teams wore black armbands.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was also among the near-80,000 spectators at English football's national stadium, where there was an increased police presence and enhanced security measures, including compulsory bag searches.

With a police helicopter whirring overhead and armed officers on patrol, England and France soccer fans had mingled outside Wembley in a calm atmosphere on a wet and windy evening in London. There was no sense of panic among supporters, who appeared intent on sending a defiant message of unity after the bombings in the French capital.

"Tonight is more about solidarity than football," said England fan Robert Williams, who was wearing a beret and holding a French flag. "It is about remembering the people that have lost their lives in such tragic circumstances."

The arch spanning the stadium was lit up in the blue, white and red of the French flag, and the French motto "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" was projected on the front of the stadium with French flags on either side.

Fans from both countries shared warm embraces. Two England fans held up a French flag, on which was written: "Be Strong For Paris."

"We have been welcomed here like it's our own home," said Sebastien Correia, a train driver from Calais who was attending the game with nine friends. "That's very important for us, for Europe and for the world, for all the people who are fighting against dictatorships and terrorism. We need solidarity on a European and a world level."

Mathieu De Bruyne, an engineer from Dunkerque, said he had brief doubts about coming to London for the game.

"Maybe for two minutes, I thought to myself, 'Should I go, should I not go?' But I had to go. Nothing has changed," he said. "You have to live like you live normally, go to the game, drink beer in the bar. Don't show you are afraid."

France's players were caught up in the attacks that ripped through Paris in several locations. Suicide bombers attacked the Stade de France, where France was playing Germany in a friendly and the teams spent the night in the stadium as violence struck elsewhere.

France midfielder Lassana Diarra's cousin was killed and France forward Antoine Griezmann's sister escaped from the Bataclan concert hall where 89 people died. Diarra and Griezmann were among the 23-man squad that came to London, and both were named among the substitutes.

France's players were applauded onto the field for the warm-up, with Diarra's name cheered loudly when the lineups were announced.

Worldwide focus was not on the game, but on what it has come to represent.

"Sport comes second tonight," Correia said.