Here in London, it feels as though a world so thoroughly tilted on its axis by the horrific events in Paris last Friday, is just beginning to right itself again.
Hey, it may not feel like that to you and I understand that, but I can only write from my own perspective here. The simple fact, as harsh as it may sound, is that life can and will go on. Those of us who live in London are just one example amongst many of the way in which life will endure even the most horrendous of circumstances.
It was in London, last night, that man’s capacity to carry on was illustrated most vividly. Four nights ago, 129 people were murdered as they went about enjoying a Friday night on the town. It goes without saying, of course, that these were people just like you and me. Cut down simply by dint of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. However the “grief police” as I like to call them, popping up on a social network near you, would like you to react, this can only be described as a tragedy. A global tragedy for sure, but one felt most keenly, obviously, by the French, by those who live in their capital city.
What fortitude then, for the French football team to come to London last night, the capital city of France’s traditional enemy and take part in a football match. Okay, yes, our rivalry with France is deeply rooted in a distant history, but it is a history that continues to echo throughout the present day. Any Arsenal fan who sat, watching in wonder, as a French revolution began in north London, transforming the football club before surging out of north London to reach every corner of the Premier League, can tell you that.
“Arsène who?” asked the London Evening Standard when Arsène Wenger was appointed our manager. Arsenal’s captain at the time, Tony Adams, was even less impressed,
“At first, I thought, what does this Frenchman know about football?”
Note, “this Frenchman”. Not this man, this bloke, nothing like that, just one word which can only be seen in this context as derogatory. Old habits die hard, it seems and there can’t have been many older habits for an Englishman than instinctive distrust of a Frenchman.
All of which is a long way round of saying that the French football team, even now, could certainly have wished for a friendlier place to pitch up than Wembley Stadium last night.
I don’t watch international football, well, not much of it anyway and I didn’t watch last night’s match. Well, there was Fargo to catch up on… but I wanted to make sure that I watched the national anthems. So much had been made of the French inviting the English to our own national stadium to join with that most stirring of national anthems, La Marseillaise, I wanted to see what would happen.
Like Red in the Shawshank Redemption, I hoped… I hoped that my fellow Londoners, already bearing the scar of an atrocity not so distant, would do what was required. However, a cynical part of me, the part that remembers England “supporters” disgracing themselves in Ireland twenty years ago, not to mention the moronic booing of national anthems, wasn’t sure.
I needn’t have worried. If it wasn’t quite Stade de France levels bursting out from the national stadium (understandable), then at least nobody can be in any doubt that proper respect was paid. It will take more than one rendition of a national anthem, one football match and four days for scars to even begin healing. That much is obvious. However, the part in me that does believe in the good in people wonders if perhaps this latest tragedy will move us.
Move us as football supporters and as human beings to stop being so horrible to each other. It’s ridiculous when you think about it. Even the Arsenal fanbase now seems to have been split into factions, with AKBS and WOBS and TFWAA (The Faction Without An Acronym – neither AKB nor WOB) everywhere.
Thinking outside the club, rivalries are a good thing, obviously, football wouldn’t be the same without it. However, nobody should come home from a football match, having had a bottles of piss or coins thrown at them, just because of who they support. Nor should anybody need to be packed off to the hospital just because they’ve taken the wrong turn towards, or away from, a hostile stadium. At the end of the day, we are all just people who happen to love the same game, but different teams.
I wrote, this time last week, of how I found myself wondering on Remembrance Sunday just how much I really hated Spurs. This week, I find myself able to answer – not that much. You may say it is silly for me to sit here and compare my (lack of) hatred for Spurs with whatever gut feeling I have for those who perpetrated this cowardly attack.
You’d be right, but doesn’t it show that this beautiful game of ours, with all of its power to transcend pain, heal and bring people together is only that? Just a game and, in the grand scheme of things, nothing more important that?
Let’s come together, people.