Wembley Tributes Can’t Silence Boo Boys
It was billed as a game that was ‘pas normale’. Not normal. And so it came to pass at Wembley on Tuesday night when England hosted France amidst a cloud of grief and sadness.
Wembley was decked in the Tricolore and the arch which can be seen for miles and towers above the Northwest London venue was lit in red, white and blue.
There was a spine-tinging rendition of La Marseillaise, even the hairs on necks stood up as the famous tune was defiantly belted out, not only by the French, but also by some England fans who were provided with the lyrics on big screens at the game and in newspapers the day before.
On the pitch, the French were understandably subdued. Two of their players were directly impacted by the tragic events in Paris last Friday night. Lassana Diarra’s cousin was one of 129 fatalities from the attacks, while Antoine Greizmann’s sister was in the Bataclan Theatre on Friday night but managed to escape.
Both men started on the bench but came on eventually to united applause from both sets of supporters at Wembley.
The staging of the game alone was a courageous stand against what happened last week.
Moreover, the impeccable observation of the minute’s silence before the game was a poignant moment for football, and proof that the game everyone knows and loves has the power to unite and cross divides.
But the pretty pictures broadcast from Wembley on Tuesday were not reflected everywhere. There was a brief interruption of the minute’s silence at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin before Republic of Ireland’s play-off clash with Bosnia. The Bosnian supporters were immediately drowned out, first with boos, then with applause.
It was sad that some of the Bosnian supporters couldn’t bring themselves to be quiet for the brief moment that was asked of them, but far from making a statement, the incident could maybe be brushed off as a minority who had enjoyed too heartily the gifts that Temple Bar had to offer earlier in the afternoon.
The situation in Istanbul on Tuesday night however was markedly different. Supporters jeered and chanted loudly throughout the minute’s silence ahead of the friendly game between Turkey and Greece and they have drawn criticism from many quarters for disrespecting the memory of the Paris victims.
But several took to social media in the wake of the match to defend the Turkish fans, pointing out that the chants of dissent were directed at terrorists. Another school of thought saw the chants as a protest at the West in general for their dismissal of other atrocities.
More than 400 people were injured and over 100 killed when two bombs were detonated at the Ankara Central Railway Station on October 11th, but no reflective silences were ordered for the International matches that followed the days after.
In the week that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn bemoaned the lack of coverage for other recent atrocities in Beirut as well as Ankara, Turkey’s fans have kicked football under the political spotlight and accusations of bias towards particular atrocities are being fired, not only at world leaders, but now at the game of football itself.
Turkish manager Fatih Terim commented afterwards that
Today is world neighbours day, but our fans didn’t behave like neighbours in this match.
Meanwhile the neighbourly pleasantries exchanged at Wembley were befitting of such an ocassion. Events elsewhere remind us that, although football can be a platform for rivals to unite for the common good, there is also disagreement on the way tragic events are marked.
One positive may arise from the cries of protest in Turkey this week. UEFA will hopefully now recognise the futility and pettiness that ingrained their complaint at Manchester City fans for booing the Champions League anthem before their game against Sevilla a month ago.
Lassana Diarra would have every right to be disconcerted by boo boys, but the sensitive suits at UEFA haven’t got much to be upset about. Ahead of a meeting scheduled for this week, maybe those ridiculous disciplinary hearings will quietly go away.