Paris attacks: France fans find unity in English arms

Story highlights

  • England and France played a friendly football match Tuesday
  • Around 71,000 turned out to show their support
  • England fans sang French national anthem

(CNN)Arriving at Wembley Stadium, it was clear that this was no ordinary international football match.

The stadium's sweeping arch, lit in the red, white and blue of the French Tricolor, gleamed against the black sky; the words Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, shining brightly in the gloom from the glass walls.
England fans join in singing French national anthem
british and french fans unite in singing french national anthem liveshot foster wrn_00010402

    JUST WATCHED

    England fans join in singing French national anthem

MUST WATCH

England fans join in singing French national anthem 00:10
Across the pedestrianized street that stretches from the Wembley Park underground station to English football's vast arena, people were stopping to take pictures.
    French flags were everywhere, plenty draped across English shoulders. Police on horseback, a common sight at UK football matches, were joined by others with machine guns. Soldiers, too, blended in with the crowd.
    But the atmosphere was far from intimidating. Instead the fans mingled together, talking and taking photographs of one another. Any sign of apprehension was masked by the sense that people were here for reasons far beyond football.
    Inside, at the end of the stadium filled with French fans, the excited chatter of fans filled the air.
    "It's incredible," beamed one young Frenchman Jeremie, who was from Britanny, but lived in London. "Even before we entered the stadium. We actually saw the mayor of London, Boris Johnson -- he was just walking through -- so we had a picture with him.
    "And then, British people were coming to talk to us, taking pictures with us, kissing us, it was amazing."
    As Prince William, flanked by England coach Roy Hodgson and his French counterpart Didier Deschamps, took to the field to lay floral tributes, the French fans erupted into heartfelt applause.
    In a break from tradition, the home team's anthem rang out first. God Save the Queen was sung in the slightly half-hearted way it often is by England fans, but then applauded enthusiastically by their French guests.
    And then the moment so many had talked about: as the band struck up the first strains of "La Marseillaise" a ripple of sound encircled the stands.
    At first the England fans appeared to struggle with the words, but as the verse became the chorus the ripple became a huge wave, the entire stadium drowned in a surge of joyful release.
    Then, a moment of impeccably observed silence. Only the distant whirring blades of a police helicopter high above the stadium interrupted the quiet reverence.
    "I cried, I cried tonight when all the stadium sang the French anthem, it was amazing‎," French fan Sulli, who had traveled from France's Champagne region to the game, told CNN.
    "As a French person I think England did its best to make this event today very wonderful, very enjoyable ‎for everybody."
    Traveling from France with Sulli was Kasia, a Pole, also draped in French colors. It's incredible," she said. "Everybody is supporting the French players, it's incredible. It's an emotional moment."
    Kasia admitted she was nervous about traveling. "I was a little bit scared, my family was scared as well, but life must go on, you need to show to the others that life goes on and you need to be there to support France as well."
    Pascal, a middle-aged Frenchman from Dunkirk, spoke with glazed eyes at half time. "Everyone in the stadium was really touched, because everyone has shown such solidarity with us, it was an incredible emotion."
    Like many, Pascal felt it was his duty to be at the game. "People are very scared in Paris, it's also difficult for us to come over here. This is a like a homage to all the young generation in France killed by this barbarity; they wanted to take away our freedom, but no one can take our liberty."