I attended a football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and another team, whose name I have forgotten (Forgettable Team). Sports and athletics are interesting as an art form, because they are very often an amalgamation of several different and distinct forms. These arts include visual, auditory, and the art of the construction and movement of the human body. At the game, I felt like I would have to narrow my perspective and choose something about the match with some specificity, otherwise I felt I would struggle too much in deciphering what I saw and render myself unable to comment on any of it. To decide which element of the game I wanted to examine I tried to remain neutral between the different possible elements and then select the one that had the biggest effect on me.
At the football match the clashing visual stimuli of the crowded fan section versus the large but mainly empty field attracted my interest more than anything. These differences in spacing were especially interesting in the context of being within the city of Paris where escaping crowds seems impossible. I am from a smaller town in the western United States, so the amount of individual space one has, whether on the metro, walking on the street, or eating in a café or restaurant has been somewhat of a shock for me.
In Paris the landscape is comprised mainly of four to seven story gray, stone buildings standing tightly together with people walking the streets clustered almost as closely depending on the time of day. I have stumbled upon some green, grassy, and tree-lined areas in Paris, but all of them are parks put in place, no doubt, to provide a respite from the pavement and crowds of the city. By the time I went to the PSG game I think I must have come close to calibrating my senses to the ratio of people/cement/plants one sees in Paris, because when I entered the stadium at PSG I was struck by the amount of green in front of me. Looking onto the field I saw the largest patch of truly green grass since I have arrived in Paris. The grass was virtually empty aside from several players from each team warming-up. It made me wonder if this is what one has to do in order be granted more space in Paris. Do you have to be phenomenally good at some sort of sport, a sport that you have to play on a big field?
The sense of awe I had from the allotment of space in the stadium wasn’t just one someone gets when going to their first large sporting event; I have been to football, basketball, and baseball games. However, this was different because in Paris seeing a field of that size and so much space allotted to the players seemed almost awkward. In a city like Paris, where open space is very limited my instincts kept telling me that an equilibrium had to be reached where all the fans would spread-out onto the field and the spaces would be filled equally.
Once the game got underway my initial reaction of amazement at the size of the field and the tightness with which the fans crowded together changed to appreciation of how the fans took advantage of their limited space. Sitting on one end of the stadium and looking across the field at the large and dense crowd of PSG supporters they would frequently perform a coordinated cheer where everyone with a scarf held it up, stretched it tightly in front of them, and waved it back and forth. From my vantage point the resulting image looked somewhat like the snowy-white screen you see on a TV when you aren’t tuned into the correct channel; except instead of white the colors where navy-blue, red, and white. An image like that would have been impossible to create had it not been for the density of the crowd packed into the stands.
Perhaps, that is why the fans in the crowd were willing to set a desire for more space and leave a 2.72 acre (yes I looked this up) plot of grass nearly untouched; their consolation was to create a visual art only possible through the density of the crowd. Or, as was the case for me, the fans were able to throw aside any urge to be on green grass once the match got underway. Watching the players make use of the field with near-mastery was enough to keep me perfectly contented in my seat; at least until I felt the urge to jump out of my seat when a PSG player executed a lightening-fast penalty kick perfectly placed in the far corner to score the first goal of the game.