A period of silence for all victims of the conflict in Israel and Palestine before England’s friendly against Australia on Friday night was immaculately observed by spectators at Wembley despite fears that it could be disrupted by protests.
Having been criticised before the match for resisting calls to light the Wembley arch in the colours of the Israeli flag after the attacks by Hamas at the weekend, the Football Association had instead arranged for the pre-match tribute to “remember the innocent victims of the devastating events in Israel and Palestine”.
While fans had been warned that flags and shirts showing support for victims of the conflict would not be allowed into Wembley, at least one Star of David flag was spotted behind one of the goals during the minute’s silence that was accompanied by a message on big screens at either end of the ground.
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“Tonight we remember the innocent victims of the devastating events in Israel and Palestine,” read the message. “Our thoughts are with them, and their families and friends in England and Australia and with all the communities who are affected by this ongoing conflict. Tonight we stand for humanity and an end to death, violence, fear and suffering.”
Heavy rain in north-west London disrupted any potential protests outside the ground, although the Guardian spoke to one supporter before the match with an Israel flag draped over his shoulders who was not aware of the FA’s ban. “I’m not Jewish but I support Israel,” he said.
England edged past Australia 1-0, with Ollie Watkins scoring the only goal. Afterwards, Gareth Southgate said of the pre-match tribute: “I was really pleased that the moment of silence was respected. It’s a bit of an indictment on society that we’re all standing holding our breath on any of those things whenever we’re at football matches but make of that what you will.”
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign welcomed the FA’s decision not to light up the Wembley arch earlier this week “and its resistance to pressure from the government and other political leaders”. John Mann, who advises the government on tackling antisemitism, had said the FA’s chief executive Mark Bullingham and chair Debbie Hewitt, should resign if the silence was disrupted by pro-Palestinian supporters or fans showing Palestinian flags inside Wembley.
Earlier on Friday, the chair of the FA’s Faith in Football group, Rabbi Alex Goldberg, resigned in protest at the FA’s stance. Goldberg said in a letter to Bullingham that he was “profoundly disappointed in the FA’s decision not to have a specific tribute during the upcoming matches against Australia and Italy at Wembley Stadium, to the victims of the worst single atrocity committed against Jewish targets since the Shoah”. He told LBC he had not been consulted by the FA over its response.