The Cross Word: Sport will endure - no matter the threat

Pompey fans showed their support for Paris. Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey fans showed their support for Paris. Picture: Joe Pepler
Former Pompey striker Yakubu has retired from football. Picture: Mic Young

Former Pompey striker announces retirement

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A t times of heightened tension it’s so easy to let those who threaten our freedom succeed in their warped ambitions.

To let fear take hold is, in one sense, a natural reaction to the danger posed to us.

The beauty of sport is it remains one of the most powerful mediums to voice solidarity.

In another, it’s a defeat to the values which hold our society together.

Freedom, free will and liberty are all pillars of our life fought for by our ancestors.

After the atrocities which took place in Paris nearly a fortnight ago, the advice has been the same: keep calm and carry on.

That’s been the case whether it’s been heads of state, those affected by the sickening events or the rest of us in the civilised world looking to show our empathy.

The beauty of sport is it remains one of the most powerful mediums to voice that solidarity.

That was witnessed at Wembley last week, when the decision for England’s friendly with France to go ahead was taken.

My ambivalence to international football since the World Cup, like much of the nation, has been well documented in this column previously.

But this was a match I wasn’t going to miss – and it wasn’t for what unfolded on the pitch.

In fact, the result was always going to be the most inconsequential thing about the game.

I wanted to see the build-up, the Englishmen standing arm-in-arm with a traditional football foe.

I wanted to see the Wembley arch drenched in the colours of the Tricolore and 70,000 people singing La Marseillaise, with Prince William and David Cameron in attendance.

It was indomitable, it was touching and it was a thing of beauty.

Which leads us to Fratton Park 11 days ago against AFC Wimbledon.

The televised meeting with the Dons arrived as one of the first high-profile football events on these shores after the attacks.

And, following the death of Bobby Campbell, Pompey fans were always planning to make a statement to their wider audience, in the form of a tribute to their Division Three title-winning manager.

But what emerged had a further-reaching impact than anyone anticipated.

The news former Blues midfielder Lassana Diarra’s cousin was one of the 130 who lost his life in the attacks was, in part the catalyst, for that.

At first it wasn’t decipherable from the press box, but the words soon became clear and stirred emotion.

Stand up if you hate ISIS.

It was an unequivocal and defiant message of support and tapped into the defiant air we so often see at fortress Fratton. And those words were heard far and wide as videos of the backing went viral.

There were those who admitted their discomfort at Pompey fans finding their political voices. After all, Question Time isn’t going to come from Fratton Park anytime soon.

I must, sadly, confess my disquiet followed a couple of days later when discussing the impact of the afternoon with family.

The thought the Blues faithful were making themselves a potential target by verbalising their contempt for ISIS had never crossed my mind.

When it was suggested that was the case in a city with well-documented issues with Muslim radicalisation, I found myself falling into the very trap those who want oppress us are aiming for.

It takes strength to resist that impact – but that’s what we must show.

Of course, we should never be complacent or naive to the dangers faced, but we must continue to go to the game, we must support Britain in the Davis Cup in Belgium and we must travel to France for Euro 2016.

Because it’s at the same time our freedom is threatened that sport’s enduring qualities will always come into their own.