Sometimes events pop up at the most awkward times, but tonight’s football match between “enemies” England and France couldn’t be more convenient – the perfect antidote to the weekend’s terror attacks.
There are several reason this fixture is significant. First and foremost it’s a football match and historically a very tasty one.
France has some of Europe’s most exciting players in the world right now and eight months before it hosts football’s premier European event, both sides are looking for competitive action to ready their exciting squads. And exciting squads they are. So even without the tragedies in Paris on Friday night, it would’ve been a great spectacle anyway.
Another reason this game has come at the right time is that, with certain groups of people trying to isolate themselves from the wider world and wider values, this game signals solidarity, unity and the demonstrates the power of a mix of values and beliefs.
That’s made clear aesthetically, just looking at the players who’ll be on show. England and France are two of the most culturally diverse nations on the planet. The French goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris, has a father of Catalan descent, teammate Paul Pogba has Guinean parents, and Mamadou Sahko was born to Senegalese parents.
Look across to the opposite end of the pitch and the likes of Raheem Sterling, of Jamaican descent, and both Kyle Walker and Dele Alli are mixed race. An example of how a society and even a world can live and prosper in a planet drowning in different ideologies but with the same goal of compassion, understanding and happiness.
The narrative that we shouldn’t allow the terrorists to win and must continue to live our lives is a very idealistic one, and probably the right one, but I’d be a liar if I said it hadn’t make me question my movements. I was planning to attend the game at Wembley tonight as a huge football fan and a curiosity to experience this French side I think will win next year’s Euros.
But those plans were scrapped when something else came up. And then Friday happened. I knew I was unable to attend but I thought to myself: be honest, if you didn’t have plans and could go, would you? And the fact that I then had to think about it says it all. Those questioning whether to take their kids or elderly parents to the game tonight shouldn’t be seen as defeatist or going against the national grain.
If France want or need any inspiration on how to recover from the terror attacks, they only have to look across the water and back to 2005. The day after London had been awarded the Olympic and Paralympic Games, our capital city experienced an attack we hadn’t felt in my lifetime for sure.
But London and the UK pulled together to show what the nation was made of… and we all saw the results in 2012. A celebration of a whole lot more than sporting greatness.
If France is going to recover, it’s going to need to show the identity equivalent of the British stiff upper lip and exude plenty of arrogance, confidence and defiance that they will rise again.
If there’s any consolation from Friday, it’s that we know the suicide bomber didn’t get into in the stadium – small comfort to know that sporting arenas are as safe as is possible.
But after tonight’s game, which will hopefully be solely about a great football match, the wider inquest into how to protect those attending 52 games at next year’s Euros, with stadiums that aren’t as new and have the same expensive structure and personnel in place, remain.