England vs France; Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite.
It is in the darkest moments that the human race unites to support each other through the toughest times. This evening’s match against France should have been a marker to compare the current England team to the hosts of Euro 2016. Instead, the match becomes a political spectacle following the tragic events in Paris over the weekend – tonight is the first opportunity that the French football team has to communicate a message to it’s people, and the first time it’s European cousins have to show their support.
The most important thing to remember when the team takes to the pitch in North London tonight is that the players are human; they feel emotion like you and I. The occasion may get to some and to speak of footballers as idols at this time seems awfully ill-placed considering the circumstances, but sport offers the chance to unite nations and provide a symbol of hope. Two of the French team have direct ties to the tragedy that unfolded in Paris; Antoine Griezmann’s sister escaped gunmen at Le Bataclan, despairingly, for another member of the squad the news wasn’t as positive.
Lassana Diarra lost one of the most influential people in his life, his cousin Asta Diakite. He described Asta as a ‘big sister’ somebody who had been there for him as his career had come to a standstill in Russia and had given him support on his return to the pitch for Olympique de Marseille. Diarra played wonderfully on his return to the French team on that fateful night, showing World Champions Germany that he hadn’t lost any of his class, dignity and grittiness on the pitch. His class off it was replicated in the touching message that he posted on social media just hours after the passing of one of his closest relatives. Should Diarra take to the pitch tonight, it can be expected that his performance on it will do Asta proud.
Culturally, French football has been a voice for politics and the public for well over 50 years now, dating back to the days in which Polish-born Raymond Kopa famously shortened his name to appear ‘more French’. As recently as 1998, the National Team has become a symbol of all that France stood for; the celebration of cultures that have come together. Historically, France has had a worldwide influence with their Empire being one of the biggest in the World, taking in vast expanses of Africa. Over time, players from all corners of the Empire came to represent France and spurned them on to success.
‘Black – Blanc – Beur’ (Black, White, Arab), was the motto behind the 1998 World Cup winning team as players from all cultural backgrounds came together to triumph on ‘home soil’ despite some criticism that ‘foreigners’ were in the squad. Zidane (Algeria), Thuram (Guadeloupe), Platini (Italy) and Tigana (Mali) have all gone on the represent France at senior level and have all won trophies on the biggest stage. In 1984, the French had a quartet of players they nicknamed the ‘Carre Magique’ – the magic square. The Carre Magique was made entirely of players whose heritage laid away from French soil – Tigana, Fernandez, Platini and Giresse – were all born or raised on foreign soil.
Now with Karim Benzema, Blaise Matuidi, the returning Hatem Ben Arfa, Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba and the aforementioned Diarra it is time for the famous ‘1987 generation’ to unite and provide a symbol of hope. Whilst football can’t heal the pain of the tragedies that occurred this weekend, this part of society will be on stage. Football and sport provides a platform to elevate a united front against the terror that currently grips France. French football must put aside it’s differences to stand strong and to unite their people through the emotion of sport.
The English people are right behind you. Vive La France.