At a stadium in north-west England, two Ukrainian footballers from opposing teams hugged each other before kick-off, before being in tears as their team-mates lined up for a match wearing tops emblazoned with the Ukrainian flag and the message: “No war”.
An hour earlier in west London, Brentford and Newcastle fans united in cheering Christian Eriksen’s return to competitive football, eight months after suffering cardiac arrest in a Premier League game. Europe.
It was a touching, emotional and at times uplifting day in the English Premier League on Saturday, marked by messages of solidarity across the country from players and fans towards those in – and in – Ukraine following the invasion of the Russia.
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Nowhere more than at Goodison Park, where the football – Manchester City beat Everton 1-0 to move six points clear at the top – felt somewhat insignificant as City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko and Vitaliy Mykolenko of Everton, two Ukraine internationals, walked towards each other during the warm-ups and hugs.
After taking their respective places on the substitutes’ bench, the players were seen in tears as The Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” was played inside Goodison Park. Everton players were draped in Ukrainian flags.
Everton usually go out for games at Goodison themed “Z-Cars” which features an air raid siren. Not this time, as a sign of respect.
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At Old Trafford, where Manchester United were held 0-0 by Watford, the players of the two teams found themselves before the start of the match behind a sign displaying the word “peace” in several languages.
And at the Amex Stadium in Brighton, Matty Cash scored the goal that sent Aston Villa on the road to a 2-0 win and marked it off by removing his shirt, revealing a message to a Polish national team-mate who plays his club football in Ukraine.
“Tomasz Kedziora + family,” he would say, “stay strong brother.”
Meanwhile, Eriksen came on as a 52nd-minute substitute for Brentford in their 2-0 loss to Newcastle, marking a return to competition that many thought was likely never to happen after he collapsed on the pitch while playing for Denmark. last year at Euro 2020.
Eriksen was fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, which forced him to leave Serie A side Inter Milan, due to Italian regulations.
Even Newcastle players joined in the applause when Eriksen arrived.
“I’m a happy man,” Eriksen said. “Getting through what I’ve been through, being back is a wonderful feeling.”
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