At Wembley on Tuesday night, when those famous opening chords of “La Marseillaise” strike up and every fan in the stadium, home and travelling, rise together in their tens of thousands it will be one of the most poignant, powerful and memorable moments in sporting history.
Supporters will sing, or one suspects in the cases of most English fans hum, loudly and with great feeling. They want to send a message. We are not defeated. We are united. We have solidarity for our fellow supporters after this most heinous and unsporting of attacks.
But the words don’t match the message:
To arms, citizens,
Form your battalions,
Let’s march, let’s march!
Let an impure blood
Water our furrows!
The brutal chorus of “La Marseillaise” could almost pass for the kind of rhetoric associated with an Isis public broadcast.
After the horrifying attacks on Paris this weekend, surely it can’t be right that the response of the supposedly civilised side of the fight is to call citizens to arms to even greater violence, to ask for impure blood to water our fields, especially given what is clearly meant by impure blood.
It is insensitive and presumptuous to imagine what the families of the victims of last Friday’s killings would want from the Wembley crowd: vociferous singing or quiet reflection. But there can be no doubt that singing the words of a song that calls Europe to arms is exactly what they are hoping for in the cells of the army of the Isis.
And what message are we sending to the refugees chased across Europe? They have been driven from their homes and their countries by war, to reach Europe where we are singing of even more bloodshed at our football matches.
The devastating attacks outside the gates of the Stade de France brought terrorism frighteningly close for every sports fan. This part of the wave of terror that hit the French capital was an attack on that most universal of our shared European culture: football. These barbaric killers bought their tickets to a football match just as millions of fans do across Europe every weekend. For many, going to a game may never be the same again.
It doesn’t need us to sing “La Marsellaise” to show our support or our solidarity. English football fans will make the occasion a special one. Every French fan at that game will be respected and treated with dignity. They will be embraced as friends and, just as importantly, as sporting foes.
When the national anthems are played and the French team and supporters sing from the depths of their heart about forming battalions and marching on their enemies, the atmosphere in Wembley will be electric. “La Marseillaise” is an evocative, rousing anthem well known especially to followers of football and this week it takes on a special poignancy.
But not to the English. After all, if the roles were reversed it seems unlikely that France, the proudest of republics, would find themselves comfortable singing “God Save The Queen”.
And in singing this revolutionary song, penned as an exhortation to fight foreign invasion, we are forgetting why these acts of barbarism have so offended and appalled us in the first place. There can be no better time to show that we are better than judging any individual based on the purity of their blood.
The decision of the French FA to continue with the friendly match against England is a brave, honourable call worthy of great admiration. It sends a strong message that whatever the score on the night, they will not be defeated.
On Tuesday night, football will unite behind this decision. But it shouldn’t unite behind more violence and bloodshed. There has been enough.
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