LONDON — With a police helicopter whirring overhead and armed officers on patrol, England and France soccer fans mingled outside Wembley Stadium on Tuesday evening ahead of what should be an emotionally charged international friendly taking place four days after the deadly attacks in Paris.
The atmosphere was calm on a wet and windy evening in London and there was no sense of panic among supporters, who appeared intent on sending a defiant message of unity after at least 129 people died in a string of co-ordinated attacks in the French capital on Friday.
"Tonight is more about solidarity than football," said 31-year-old England fan Robert Williams, who was wearing a beret and holding a France flag. "It is about remembering the people that have lost their lives in such tragic circumstances."
Prince William and British Prime Minister David Cameron were expected to be among the near-80,000 spectators at English football's national stadium, where there was an increased police presence and enhanced security measures, including compulsory bag searches.
Some French and English fans broke into a rendition of "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem, as they walked up to the stadium. The Wembley Arch was lit up in the red, white and blue of the French flag, and the French motto "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" was projected on the front of the stadium with France flags on either side.
Fans from both countries shared warm embraces. Two England fans held up a French flag, on which was written: "Be Strong For Paris."
"We have been welcomed here like it's our own home," said Sebastien Correia, a 38-year-old train driver from Calais who was attending the game with nine friends. "That's very important for us, for Europe and for the world, for all the people who are fight against dictatorships and terrorism. We need solidarity on a European and a world level."
Mathieu De Bruyne, a 27-year-old engineer from Dunkerque, said he had brief doubts about coming to London for the game.
"Maybe for two minutes, I thought to myself, 'Should I go, should I not go?' But I had to go. Nothing has changed," he said. "You have to live like you live normally, go to the game, drink beer in the bar. Don't show you are afraid."
France's players were caught up in the attacks that ripped through Paris on Friday night in several locations. Suicide bombers attacked the Stade de France, where France was playing Germany in an international friendly.
The teams spent the night in the stadium as violence struck elsewhere, during which time France midfielder Lassana Diarra's cousin was killed and France forward Antoine Griezmann's sister escaped from the Bataclan concert hall where 89 people died.
Diarra and Griezmann were among the 23-man squad that flew to London for the match against England.
Worldwide focus was not on the game, but on what it has come to represent.
Floral tributes were to laid on the centre circle before the match and players planned to wear black armbands. England fans were encouraged to sing "La Marseillaise," whose words were being projected on the big screen.
"Sport comes second tonight," Correia said.
Steve Douglas, The Associated Press