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May/June 2015

Football in the 21st century is much like ancient Greece – a set of city states, jostling for supremacy. The Champions League, the annual tournament for Europe’s leading clubs, has become bigger, richer and often better than the Euros, the quadrennial tournament for whole nations. This is a league played entirely at night, and almost entirely in the autumn and winter; when the days get longer, only the last seven matches remain. In each city, the stadium glows like something else – a museum, a car park, or, in the case of Bayern Munich, a spaceship. It exerts a force field that leaves the streets humming with electricity. The fans, making their way from work, turn into a human river, a stream of scarves and hats and hopes and fears.

This is what we hoped to capture in our photo essay. The photographer was easy to choose: Peter Kindersley, a Londoner who has twice filled this space with ravishing cityscapes, showing London at night (winter 2009) and ghost signs (Jan/Feb 2014). In London, he had been on home turf; here, he wasn’t. Had he ever been to a football match before, I asked? “No,” he said with a wry smile. “I’m more of a cricket fan myself.”

His inexpertise was, if anything, an asset. Kindersley landed among the fans as if he had walked out of that spaceship. We sent him on a whistlestop tour of football capitals – Madrid, Turin, Paris, Munich – and he saw them with fresh eyes. So what struck him? “I wasn’t sure what to expect but each of the stadiums had its unique look. And all the fans seemed slightly different in character, with their singing and chanting. I was struck by the colossal size of the stadiums, built like fortresses. The Paris one looks like a brutalist castle.”

One night in February, Arsenal supporters were trickling into their ground in north London for what turned out to be a fateful encounter with Monaco. They found themselves stepping round a cheery figure in a brown peacoat and cap, planted in the middle of the road with a tripod. The street was closed to cars, so the only danger came from the occasional pair of police horses. The figure in the coat was Kindersley, who was after a shot showing how the Emirates stadium, which only opened in 2006, rubs shoulders with its elderly neighbours. To his right was a cosy block of housing-association flats, to his left an angular canteen at London Metropolitan University. “I wanted to capture old and new. The thing that’s famous about London architecture is that old-and-newness.” Even the people fitted this template: an old lady came by with a stick, shuffling home, followed by another in an Arsenal scarf; in the canteen, students chatted over a late cup of tea and fiddled with their phones.

Calmly, deliberately, with no visible effort, Kindersley finds what he needs, whether it’s a pop of colour in the crowd or a certain wistfulness in the air. His eye seems to be naturally poetic. But when he talks, he couldn’t be more down-to-earth. He is most animated when telling me about the snack he had in Turin. “I was starving, I’d been walking miles around, I thought I was going to faint. So I bought this big bap from a stall. I couldn’t work out if it was pork or peperami or something else, I hadn’t tasted anything like it, but it was amazing. One thing that’s apparent at all these stadiums is the large quantity of meat being sold. Everyone who supports football seems to be a carnivore.” ~ Tim de Lisle

Champions League quarter-finals April 14th-22nd, semi-finals May 5th-13th, final June 6th

BERNABÉU STADIUM
MADRID

REAL MADRID 3 SCHALKE 04 4

“The most intense stadium I went to. The crowds were the loudest – whenever someone scored, they really rattled their seats, like they were trying to destroy the place. The atmosphere was charged” 

VELTINS ARENA
GELSENKIRCHEN, GERMANY

SCHALKE 0 REAL MADRID 2 

“The stadium is in a huge park, covered with trees, hilly banks, dark paths, very rural – the complete opposite of some of the other stadiums. The interesting thing about the German fans was that there didn’t seem to be individual passions. They all seemed to be together. They’re just as one”

EMIRATES STADIUM
LONDON

ARSENAL 1 MONACO 3

“At Arsenal there are only two or three entrances, and when it was at its most crowded, it became like a stream of people, it became a really interesting shot. You can’t see the whole stadium, you just get angles, but where it does work is that you can frame it between other buildings, old and new. You feel as though you’re walking with the crowd”

PARC DES PRINCES
PARIS

PARIS ST GERMAIN 1 CHELSEA 1

“Paris was the strictest in terms of security, understandably, after the shootings. At the beginning, the hi-vis people (centre) wouldn’t let me in. They were like, ‘Oh no, you need to go round and see the media office’, and then you find no one’s in the media office, it was one of those situations. But I’d researched it online and I knew I could do the motorway shot”

JUVENTUS STADIUM
TURIN

JUVENTUS 2 BORUSSIA DORTMUND 1

“The area is just gigantic. That concrete space goes right around the stadium, so it was difficult to work out the best place to catch people. But the light was lovely, that twilight. It was very cold out there, ’cause the mountains are near. I was trying to capture them too, but they hadn’t quite put the stadium in the right place”

VELTINS ARENA
GELSENKIRCHEN

SCHALKE 0 REAL MADRID 2 

“The tram goes to the stadium,” Kindersley says. “You get off at the Veltins stop, walk up the stairs, follow this small path – and there was this guy selling beer. I thought his umbrella was funny, it looked like it should be on the beach in the Bahamas. He spent ages adjusting it to get the right light.” Did he buy a beer? “I did. I had to gain the trust of the locals”

ALLIANZ ARENA
MUNICH

BAYERN MUNICH 7 SHAKHTAR DONETSK 0 

“Munich was great,” Peter Kindersley says. “The stadium goes the colour of the away team. I noticed a huge car park, 300 metres back, six storeys high. I love heights but I hate lifts, so I took the stairs. This was taken with an 85mm lens, to give more zoom. I wanted a bit of blur, and in the dark you have to make the shutter speed fairly slow. I like taking a wide shot and spotting the characters later, tiny people, like ants, walking towards this huge spaceship”

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