A city united

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Just after 10:30pm on Monday night, 22 people were killed and 59 were injured in a terrorist attack in the Manchester Arena. It was an act of unspeakable cowardice and malice, a knowing attack on children. The people of Manchester, whether red, blue or otherwise, will stand strong in the face of these atrocities. Now is the time for unity.

In the aftermath of events such as these, there are always tales of empathy and compassion. Minutes after the attack, there was an outpouring of love and support on social media – the hashtag #roomformanchester offered hundreds of perfect strangers a place to stay, rest or shelter for the night. Hotels offered free rooms and local businesses stayed open to help anyone who needed it. The Living Room bar on Deansgate was offering free hot drinks and shelter to anyone affected. In the city’s darkest hour, a sense of community and togetherness prevailed.

This morning, it was announced that Manchester United’s Europa League Final will go ahead as planned. A UEFA statement read, ‘There is currently no specific intelligence which might suggest that any of the UEFA Europa League final activities in Stockholm may be the target of attacks.’ Both teams are set to wear black armbands in memory of those lives lost in Manchester. This was a strong announcement from UEFA that the show must go on. Jose Mourinho said that the victims and their families are in the ‘hearts and minds’ of the players as they prepare to play Ajax on Wednesday night.

The rhetoric from Old Trafford over the last week has highlighted the paramount importance of the match, sentiments which now seem to pale into insignificance. Mourinho has won all three of his previous European finals, yet this is arguably his greatest test to date. If they lose this one, their season will end with no Champions League qualification, and the likelihood of attracting elite summer signings will also be affected. Earlier this week, Phil Neville said his greatest fear is that the United players will be weighed down by the pressure of having to win to qualify for the Champions League. That pressure will now be far greater – the game has an extra dimension, albeit one which will provide little solace to those affected, regardless of the outcome of the match. At moments like these, football really doesn’t matter.

This is not the first time football authorities have pressed on with a match following a terrorist incident. After the attacks in Paris in November 2015, France were scheduled to play England in a friendly match in London the following week. On that day too, the show went on. I attended the match at Wembley with my girlfriend, brother and his girlfriend, who is from Dijon in France. It was a night which turned out to be sobering and heart-warming in equal measure. The Wembley arch was lit up in the tricolour red, white and blue, and the royal family were in attendance. We received support from England fans in the stadium, spoken in broken French, translated as good luck messages which were both spirited and genuine.

Last week, my brother’s girlfriend became his wife, and as a result my sister-in-law. The same sense of community was on show at the wedding all weekend long – both family and friends attempted communicating in the others’ language, exchanging conversations and laughter throughout. Despite the language barrier, it is one family. It’s the same sentiment which rings true here. It’s examples such as these which resonate the most, the stories of goodwill and kindness which are so at odds with the untold horror which was seen last night. As with all people who are affected by this – good people from all backgrounds – we basically only have one language.

Over the coming days, months and years, the people of Manchester will unite as one against what can only be deemed as evil in its purest form. The tragic events which took place on 22 May 2017 will never be forgotten.

As the sun sets on Manchester tonight, it will set on a grieving population, as it did in Paris almost two years ago. Before that match at Wembley, the entire stadium sang Le Marseillaise in unison. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the action on the pitch was subdued and forgettable, and it may be the same tomorrow night. Despite that, the message was clear and true, as it currently is across the world – we will not be defeated.

Chris Henderson – follow me on Twitter here

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