Opinions matter. It’s good that people have opinions, it’s right that everyone deserves to have them. Some project theirs much louder than others; some keep theirs to themselves, which is fine. Certain things can be very difficult to give an opinion on. The events over the weekend have been incredibly hard to formulate into words. There are others who can and have opened up their tributes, sympathies and defiance in beautifully articulated, emotion-invoking pieces, capturing the general mood and tone perfectly.
It is through sport and football that I can express my own feelings most naturally, as it is what I have always related with best. Sport of course will always come second in tragic cases such as these, and it still feels slightly wrong to discuss this catastrophe in conjunction with something so free of relative importance. This attitude marginalises sport to something completely meaningless though, something that is not true. Sport opens up an alley for me to discuss such an uncomfortable topic because it means something. It matters.
Tuesday night at Wembley reached much further than the world of football, but it is that common demonstration of solidarity, by doing what we love, that is exactly the power sport holds. It was a night of great emotion, one that was carried out perfectly by the FA and everyone inside the home of football. Players, managers, fans and world leaders all acted with the upmost dignity and respect that such an occasion demands. At the centre of it all - football.
French football’s governing body made the decision to proceed with the friendly and it would seem most would agree that it was indeed the correct decision to do so. France’s captain, Hugo Lloris, seemed to suggest that not all of the squad were entirely comfortable with playing, understandably, but all travelled to London in what was an important display of unity. The men in suits know the power of sport, so too do those wearing the colours of their nations.
Sport and football is powerful because of how much it means. It is ingrained into so many of us from the moment we’re born – we see it on television, we play it in the garden or we’re indoctrinated into following the teams of our parents and grandparents. It matters to us and so it is important that it sets an example in expressing the ideals we want to embrace. When the Wembley crowd proudly sung La Marseillaise and the two teams joined together as footballing and human brothers in arms, it was a message that our culture will not be broken or distorted by acts of terror.
With this message, terrorism fails in its aim, because we carry on. Sport is central to our country, to France, to most of the Western world and so in showing our defiance within sport, we are showing our defiance towards attacks on our culture. It is because we love it so much, because many of us live for those perfect sporting moments that live in our hearts and minds forever, that is why it was so essential for England and France to carry on and play. Threats to the safety of thousands more forced two games on Tuesday to be sadly called off, but this is not a theme that will carry on, as sport and our culture defies our enemies and continues on. The men on the Wembley pitch not only showed their respects for the victims in Paris, they demonstrated that we will still revel in our passions and will not bow to terrorist pressure to change. No further proof is needed than the smile on Dele Alli’s face after his first international goal. A boy doing what he loves and no cowardly, heartless act of violence will deprive him of that.
It has been a sombre few days and only the beginning of what seems to be a murky future. Among the incomprehensible worst of human nature though, we have also been afforded examples of the best of it. To those who desperately did their best to care for the injured, to every one of the medical professionals that saved lives, to the taxi drivers that turned off their meters, to the men and women that offered their homes as refuge, we owe the upmost respect and gratitude for restoring some of the faith in our own kind that was so mercilessly torn away on Friday evening.
Later came the acts of symbolic togetherness. The lighting of iconic monuments worldwide and the global embracing of the French tricolore are simple gestures, but send the clear message that we can all agree on. Acts of terror will surely continue to damage us, but they will never break us and the worldwide reaction has once again proven this, once more tightening the bond that holds us together even closer against evils that we sadly too often face.
This once again brings us back to football and to sport. Whether you are Tottenham or Arsenal, an All Black or Wallaby, team Novak or Rafa, we are all part of one family when it comes to something bigger. For many of us, only life is bigger than sport and sport is what makes our lives. That, we will never lose.
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