France’s national anthem is a song of defiance. Even English soccer fans will sing it tonight

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité
Image: Reuters/Matt Cashore-
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France is coping with Europe’s worst terror attack in 10 years, but the national soccer team remains undeterred. This despite the France vs. Germany game at the Stade de France on Friday having been the target of one of the attacks.

The French team rejected offers to withdraw from its exhibition match tonight (Nov. 17) against England in London—one player is even coming despite his cousin being killed in the attacks. “I can’t deny there’s something hanging over which is far, far greater than a football match,” the English coach said.

As a sign of solidarity, English fans have been encouraged to join in the singing of the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.

The match will be played at Wembley stadium, where the words of the French national anthem will be shown on the big screens. Outside the stadium, screens will show the French motto, “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,” and the famous arch above the stadium will be lit up in the Tricolore.

The Daily Mail has printed out the lyrics, as well as a translation, of La Marseillaise as the rightwing, often xenophobic national newspaper urged English fans to join with the French counterparts in singing “the anthem of defiance.”

Following the attacks in Paris on Fridays, hundreds of fans evacuating the Stade de France spontaneously sang the anthem to emulate the same sense of unity and defiance.

The anthem, written and composed by Claude Joseph Rouget, was famously sung by forces marching on Paris during the French Revolution in 1792. Despite four subsequent republics and two empires ruling France since its creation, La Marseillaise survives to this day as the national anthem of France.

In recent years there’s been some pressure to change the words, particularly the phrase “may impure blood water our fields.” Critics argue the words are no longer fit for a modern society; some soccer players have even refused to sing the anthem.

But for most the world, La Marseillaise has come to symbolize France and unity against terrorism. Following the Paris attacks, thousands on social media have shared a clip from the film Casablanca where customers in a bar sing the French national anthem to quieten the group of Nazis singing the German national anthem.

Malcolm Clarke, chairman of the Football Supporters’ Federation, supports asking English fans to sing the French national anthem—something that won’t be seen too often at the English national stadium. Clarke told the BBC:

I think it just shows solidarity with the French. I don’t think anything like this has ever been done before. We will all have to polish up our French pronunciation.