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