23rd August, 2020
Allez Paris Saint-Germain echoes through the streets, along with the smell of beer and cigarettes, the blaring of motorbike horns and the steady hum of anticipation. Bodies in blue, red and white teem out of Boulevard de Clichy’s numerous bars, leaving jubilant fans 50 feet and 100 people away from the small television screens inside, displaying the build-up to tonight’s Champions League final.
Even those at the very back of the crowds aren’t bothered by their view. Smiles, revealed by masks now worn around necks, are etched onto each face; because any view of the screen, no matter how obscure or obstructed or petite, is perfect: for fifty years they have been waiting for this night.
Founded in 1970, Paris Saint-Germain F.C. are still juvenile in comparison to European football’s other storied institutions. The club has been quick to make up for lost time however, first establishing themselves as a French powerhouse in the 80s and 90s, and cementing their reputation as the Kings of French football since 2011 – when they were acquired by Qatar Sports Investment, a state-owned organisation directed by Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar.
Over €1 billion has been spent on player transfers since. Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimović signed for the club in 2012. 2017 saw the arrival of the Brazilian, Neymar, for €222 million (making him the most expensive player in history), and a year later came French wonderkid Kylian Mbappé for €180 million (making him the second most expensive player in history). Stratospheric investment has helped PSG win seven of the last eight domestic league titles and undisputedly catapulted them into the realm of global footballing elite. And yet, the Champions League eludes them.
The Parisian club have not been shy about their paramount objective in recent times. For all of their domestic success, they have had four managers in seven years, each hired to be the man to finally lead them to European glory. Until Thomas Tuchel, two years after his appointment in 2018, no manager in PSG’s history had managed to reach the final of Europe’s premier club competition.
But now, after all the expectation, PSG supporters must settle for witnessing their club’s momentous night on a screen. After a Coronavirus-induced hiatus, the 2020 Champions League knockout stages resumed behind closed doors, in a bio-secure bubble in Lisbon, and thousands of PSG fans who would have regularly been there, each step of the way, have been confined to watching agonisingly from their sofas. Mais, c’est la vie – any frustration about not being able to witness the final in person can be saved for tomorrow morning. Tonight is a party. Some have descended on the empty Parc des Princes with flares and megaphones, while thousands more choose to cram into various Parisian bars instead.
The excitement has been 50 years in the making. It’s been exacerbated further by the events of the last few months. The energy, which was sucked from Paris’ typically bustling streets and compressed into its small apartments, is finally back out in the open, reaching fever-pitch as the clock approaches 9 in the late-summer twilight.
Win or lose, this evening is a celebration. Of football, of course, but the football seems secondary. The football is on a screen and the screen is good enough. Tonight is a celebration of people, in person; of atmosphere, and for that there really is no replacement – no screen that can suffice nor convey the feeling one finds when immersed in a group of passionate people.