The moving gesture of solidarity came after William laid flowers on the pitch in rememberance of those who died in the terror attacks in France on Friday.
Just four days after terrorists struck Paris, 70,000 England fans joined in an emotional rendition of “La Marseillaise,” a cry that has accompanied France into battle for centuries.
Enthusiastic England fans with only the flimsiest grasp on French may have been adorned with the French Tricolore, but they struggled to keep up with the words of the foreign song. A defiant band of Frenchmen led the way.
Earlier, thousands of English football fans had walked up Wembley Way—the path that leads to soccer's most famous stadium—with French flags fluttering in all directions, even if Gallic inflections were drowned out by local voices.
Joanne Owens had brought her young son and his best friends. They were proudly wearing England shirts, France flags and half-and-half scarves.
"I never thought I'd be wearing a French flag—they can be pretty arrogant. But it's a matter of respect. We felt we had to. There's something nice about being at a game where you don't mind who wins. In fact we want France to win."
Owens, who travelled in on the train from Kent, admitted that she had felt a little apprehensive with three kids under the age of 13. “But what can you do?”
Kevin Hattab, 23, was in Paris just four days ago when bullets and suicide vests ripped into a city at the start of the weekend. “It was awful, horrible seeing everyone like that. We have a lot of problems in France but this united everyone,” he said.
As the teams stood on the pitch linking arms at Wembley Stadium, the prince joined in the rendition of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise.”
There followed a minute of silence to remember the victims of terror worldwide.
It was interrupted only by the sound of a security helicopter hovering above the stadium.
Given that the terror attacks in Paris began with a series of suicide bombs at a match between France and Germany, the game Tuesday night was a particularly poignant demonstration of British and French defiance in the face of terror. The potential threat was underlined when a Germany-Netherlands soccer game in Hanover was called off for fear of a bomb attack.
The game went ahead at Wembley, however, which was illuminated in the French colors of red, white, and blue and the words “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité,” the slogan of the French Republic, were projected around the stadium.
Several of those playing were personally affected by Friday's events. Lassana Diarra, whose cousin was killed, received a standing ovation as he came on in the second half. Diarra used to play in London for Arsenal and Chelsea.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Terry, of Scotland Yard’s Specialist Crime and Operations squad, said there had been no intelligence reports of specific terrorist threats in London, but the match was patrolled with armed police and members of the elite SAS, who were reportedly authorized to shoot to kill in the event of any jihadi threat.
In addition to Prince William, who was attending in his capacity as president of the Football Association, tonight’s match was also attended by several important public figures, including Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson.
Together with the prince, the public figures in the VIP stands amounted to a very visible statement of solidarity with the French after the weekend of bloodshed in Paris.
Alexis Bouvier, 27, a French doctor living in London, said he had been overwhelmed by support in London since Friday’s attacks.
“Football is not usually the best sport for friendship, not like rugby with the fans all sitting together, but this is different. We already have the best anthem but it is amazing to give it such added emotion.”
The match also threw into sharp relief the challenges of protecting the royals and other high-profile figures from a relatively new threat—home-grown, suicidal, religiously inspired terrorists.
Security consultant Andrew Mawhinney, 53, who spent 30 years working in Northern Irish policing and now runs his own security firm, Minerva, told The Daily Beast that after an attack such as the one that took place in France on Friday, all aspects of the security operations that surround the royals and other high-value targets would be comprehensively reviewed.
“Absolutely everything will be being reviewed. You look at all potential threats, all available information and review all planned visits.
“New threat and risk assessments will be made, based on the attacks which have just happened,” he added.
Although it is often said that the British police have among the best anti-terror training in the world thanks to many years spent combatting the threat of the IRA, Mawhinney says any comfort taken in such arguments may prove to be illusory.
“These terrorists clearly don’t mind losing their lives for the cause, and that is a big thing compared to Irish terrorism. The IRA members didn’t want to die—and even then they managed to target the royals very successfully, blowing up Lord Mountbatten in 1979.”
Indeed, the death of Mountbatten, killed when an IRA bomb detonated on a small boat he was using to check lobster pots while on holiday, has always served as a guard against complacency as to the extent of the threat the royals face.
Mawhinney, however, says that the biggest threat at an event like tonight’s game is not to VIP and royal attendees, but to unarmed police officers on the periphery of the event.
“From a terrorist point of view, killing a policeman doing traffic control 500 yards from the stadium will produce plenty of publicity. Why attack Prince William’s armed motorcade when you can attack a guy in a stab vest and armed with nothing more than a canister of CS gas?”
Exact figures are hard to come by, but the Metropolitan Police is believed to devote around 400 officers to the job of guarding 21 protected members of the royal family 24 hours a day.
The cost is believed to be around £100 million per year.
That figure may spiral in the coming years as the royals are known to be a prime target for Islamic fundamentalist terrorists—especially the male members, given their military connections.
When Prince Harry served a four-month tour of duty as a chopper pilot in Afghanistan, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by phone, “We are using all our strength to get rid of him, either by killing or kidnapping. We have informed our commanders in Helmand to do whatever they can to eliminate him.”
In a series of interviews during his tour, Harry compared killing Taliban fighters to “playing PlayStation and Xbox,” in remarks which were said to have increased his value as a terror target.
A spokesperson for Prince William told The Daily Beast, “Tonight’s game is a chance to pay tribute to the bravery and resolve of the French people and the French team, who were of course affected directly by Friday’s attacks. Continuing play on Friday after the first bomb went off saved many lives and foiled the terrorists’ plan to take advantage of a panicked response at the Stade de France. Going ahead with tonight’s game is a powerful message of Britain’s friendship and partnership with France in the face of people who are intent on dividing societies.”
Cameron has sought to put out a similar ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ message.
Asked by reporters if he would take his children to Wembley, Cameron said, “Yes, I would. I think it’s very important that we carry on with our lives. What these terrorists want to do is to change our way of life and to destroy our way of life. Remember that our freedom depends on us showing resolve and carrying on our way of life, which is precisely what we ought to do.”
Ken Wharfe, a former Metropolitan police officer attached to the SO14 Royalty Protection squad, was from 1986 through 1994 the personal protection officer to the late Diana, Princess of Wales. He told The Daily Beast: “The royals haven’t faced a threat level similar to this since the late ’80s, when the IRA specifically threatened to kill a member of the royal family, and the threat level was put up to 2 [1 being the maximum threat].”
Wharfe, author of Diana, Closely Guarded Secret, said that in the short term, the ramping up of security around senior royals such as Prince William would mean they are accompanied by four or five rather than one or two personal protection officers.
And what of the long-term future for security around the royals?
“What the royals never want to do is to have an alarmist strategy, so you won’t suddenly be seeing armed police openly surrounding William.
“But my own view is the royals will be reviewing their personal security, and there will be additional security at forthcoming public engagements—sadly, it perhaps won’t be quite as free and open for the public at those events as people have become accustomed to.”