PARIS: It started as a celebration of football, a glamour friendly between France and world champions Germany in front of 80,000 fans at Paris’s showpiece Stade de France.
Then they heard the explosions.
“I thought it was just a firework, then my friends told me what was going on in Paris,” said a French fan in his 20s as the grim reality of Friday’s deadly attacks suddenly hit home.
When three loud explosions were heard from outside the stadium during the first half, football soon drifted from the minds of the spectators when it eventually emerged that three people had died near the arena in the north of the city.
Later, the death toll climbed to five outside the glittering venue which staged the 1998 World Cup final with 11 seriously hurt and around 30 people slightly injured.
It emerged that one of the explosions was near to a McDonald’s restaurant on the fringes of the stadium.
A police source later said that one of the blasts was caused by a suicide bomber on the Rue Jules Rimet.
“A man wearing an explosives belt blew himself up,” said the officer.
French president Francois Hollande, who was in attendance at the game, was hurried from the stadium amid the early reports of shootings in central Paris and of the developing hostage crisis in the Bataclan theatre.
“The game’s going on and it’s awful I’ll be honest, I’m very spooked,” said a journalist as the match progressed.
At first, very few, if any, of the crowd appeared to be aware of the significance of what was happening despite the appearance of helicopters low in the sky overhead during the second half and the audible sound of sirens from outside.
The crowd still loudly celebrated goals by Olivier Giroud and substitute Andre-Pierre Gignac late in either half of the match that gave France the win.
However, with tight security building up around the stadium, there was evident confusion after the final whistle.
With exit points being restricted, large numbers of fans poured onto the pitch.
There was no visible sense of panic, but it was after 11:30pm local time (2230 GMT) before the pitch was emptied.
“One of the fast food restaurants was being searched by police forensics and officers dressed in white outfits,” added a reporter outside the ground.
The evacuation of the fans finished at around midnight, many heading for their cars, others to catch the train back into the city.
“The RER B (one of the main suburban train lines serving the station) isn’t working. It’s a black Friday the 13th,” said 27-year-old Sarah Gopal, carrying a French flag in her hand.
The drama followed events earlier in the day when the German team were evacuated from their plush hotel in the west of Paris following a bomb scare.
When the players left the field at the end of the game, they had other concerns on their minds which went beyond the significance of the game.
As they gathered in the tunnel, world famous superstars like Germany’s World Cup winner Thomas Mueller and Arsenal striker Giroud immediately turned their attention to the TV screens, staring blank-faced as the horror on the streets of Paris unfolded.
Paris Saint-Germain star Angel Di Maria expressed his shock Friday at the bloody attacks in the French capital after Argentina’s World Cup clash with Brazil.
Di Maria’s PSG team-mates Ezequiel Lavezzi and David Luiz were also playing in Friday’s 1-1 at the Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires, where a minute’s silence was held before kick-off to honor victims of the violence.
“I’d only just heard about what happened,” Di Maria said. “It’s incredible. These things have to stop,” the midfielder added.
Lavezzi, who scored Argentina’s goal in the draw, meanwhile took to Twitter to express his sorrow at the attacks.
“Pray for Paris,” the forward wrote above a viral image of an eye tinted by the colors of the French tricolore.
The English Football Association (FA) will liaise with their French counterparts this weekend over whether a friendly between the two nations planned for Tuesday goes ahead after deadly attacks in Paris.
Tuesday’s match is due to be played at Wembley in London.
“It’s a very serious, tragic matter. Regards the matter on Tuesday, if there is any update we will announce in due course,” said an FA spokesman.
“The FA obviously sends its deep condolences to the victims of this tragic event and we will liaise with the French Federation this weekend at the appropriate time.”
Meanwhile, the French Football Federation (FFF) said it was cancelling all public events scheduled for Saturday at their Clairefontaine training base just outside Paris.
“The French Football Federation has decided to cancel all the France team’s events,” said an FFF statement.
“By consequence, the meeting with fans, the press conference and public access to training are cancelled,” it said.