At the time of purchasing my ticket, I could never have anticipated what a significant occasion this friendly would turn out to be. Don’t get me wrong, of course – watching England at the home of football is always special, but on Tuesday night Wembley was more than a stadium, it was an impenetrable Bastille – forming the glue to bind two nations together in a time of great sorrow.
The FFF’s decision to go ahead with last night’s fixture after the ghastly events in Paris was – in my eyes – an astonishing act of defiance and totally admirable, I was pleased to hear that Greg Dyke and the FA accommodated France’s decision to travel to London but it was clear all around that the complexion of this game had completely transformed.
As I trudged down Wembley Way football seemed so unimportant, France fans were sombre – England fans were aware of the colossal shadow cast over the evening. I heard one dad say to his two boys, “This is going to be special, you’ll remember this.” And that was very much the tone everywhere, there was just a different feeling.
La Marseillaise roared from the foundations to the very summit of the arch, France supporters waved their flags as tears welled in their eyes. That is what this game had become, a display of unity – one huge battle cry.
As little as the game mattered, England began well and came close to an early lead with Rooney just fizzing a shot wide – cutting in and using the outstep of his weaker left foot. The deadlock was broken in the 39th minute when 19 year old Dele Alli let fly from well outside the area to nestle the ball into the net beyond an out-of-sorts Lloris. Bums were barely back in seats after the half-time interval when Rooney scored England’s 2nd, latching onto Raheem Sterling’s piercing cross with a sweet close-range volley. The stadium erupted when Lassana Diarra replaced Yohan Cabaye for France in the 57th minute, Diarra lost his cousin in the Paris attacks and showed unfathomable courage to play in a time of such sadness.
England can certainly draw positives from the game, Eric Dier and Dele Alli in particular repaying the faith that has been shown in them by Hodgson – the team was missing a number of key players due to injury so it’s encouraging to see. France were clearly encumbered by Friday’s events and never really came out of their shell; looking nervous especially when going forward, it was not a performance of which you would use to judge an extremely vibrant and talented Les Bleus side.
It was a win for England but more importantly a win for humanity.