When the COVID-19 pandemic led to the closure of stadiums on a global scale in 2020, we saw how melancholy a fútbol game could be without the color, the music, and the fervor of the fans.
During unprecedented times, television broadcasts tried to recreate the crowds through illusion by playing pre-recorded cheers from the bleachers comparable to a sitcom laugh track or even projecting holograms to simulate spectators. But these measures only served to accentuate the absence of fans — the true energy of sports.
Yet, the world remained unsure when we’d see this energy again. The Olympic Games were postponed for a year, and wave after wave of new variants added to the uncertainty about the future of large international events.
But now, two years after the pandemic first hit, the World Cup is coming to its end in Qatar in all its splendor and complexity, with around 1.2 million people having trekked across the globe for a chance to see soccer history in the making.
Walking the streets of Doha, it’s clear that the true heart of the World Cup lies beyond the goals and fútbol’s famed players. It’s in the stories of the people who fill the bleachers and deliver the stadium soundtrack of echoed cheers and chants: the fans.
There is the story of the Argentine who impersonates Queen’s Freddie Mercury, who sold his car to buy a plane ticket because of a dream he had to see his country’s sports hero Messi hold the coveted trophy above his head.
Or the story of an Ecuadorian family, more than 20 people in total, who traveled from New Jersey to support La Tricolor, their national team, with their lucky charms — an oversized shirt and an amulet — that have accompanied them for the last two decades through stadiums around the world.
They are the stories of hundreds of Mexican-American families who came to support their two countries, representing the intersectional belongings of immigrant communities. Many fans cheered for Morocco, a team full of dual nationals who decided to play for their native country’s team and pulled off an unexpected win against Spain and Portugal.
With these photos shot on film in Qatar, we’re spotlighting the fans — those wandering through the desert looking for a patch of green after a long, unwavering drought in sports.