“A CROWD IS NOT COMPANY”

What must it be like to play to empty stands? Do cardboard cut-outs of spectators help? Or piped crowd noise?

Sports stadia are special places, places of worship some might say. In ‘normal’ times, ardent ‘worshippers’ sing and shout their joy, or groan and howl their disappointment. A friend once showed me, with reverence, a paper bag in which were beige bits of dried grass, filched decades ago from the Centre Court at Wimbledon – a hallowed place for him.

Go to Wimbledon, Lord’s, the Principality Stadium or Wembley for a tour, as I’ve done in the past, and you’ll find no crowds, no media, no officials, no players. Interesting, but oh so quiet! Yet not lifeless.

Crowd-pulling sports events and summer festivals are on hold. Do we need crowds? Do we need to be part of a crowd? Francis Bacon said, “A crowd is not company, and faces are but a gallery of pictures.” Would you agree with him? Are we individual and communal experience-seekers – wanting excitement, a sense of belonging, a place to feed our enthusiasm for the gods we adore? Is loyalty to a particular team best demonstrated in the company of others? Watching re-runs on TV of old sporting matches can never be as enthralling as in their original unfolding.

Like football clubs, traditional places of worship are currently reinventing themselves for new circumstances – as are theatres where ‘the show must go on’ – albeit online in each case and, arguably, with bigger ‘crowds’. Why? Because they want to share the subject of their enthusiasm with others. Whatever or whoever and wherever you worship, avoid being a mere cardboard cut-out. Know who you support and why – and go for it with enthusiasm.

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