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Among the Fans From Ashes to the Arrows By Patrick Collins

Release date: 20th October, 2011
Publisher: Wisden Sports

List Price: £18.99
Our Price: £13.19
You Save: £5.8 (30%)
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Those of us aged over 40 may recall a time when our sporting heroes were both admired for their modesty, approachability and their undoubted skill. Money did not begin to sully the sporting arena until its widespread appeal to broadcasters (initially as a source of cheap programming) became evident and someone within the sports industry queried the amount of advertising revenue television companies were generating.

This willingness to question established practices has resulted in a sea-change amongst supporters too. Footballers, for example, are no longer automatically respected; instead, reaction to them is determined according to their weekly wage. Many cricket spectators now watch for evidence of cheating, while race-goers always have one eye on the nag that pulled up a little too suddenly in the home straight.

So have supporters become more cynical? Do they observe in the knowledge that something underhand is likely to be going on in a rugby scrum, a Test match, a blue riband cycling tour?

Patrick Collins' enormously enjoyable book, in which he spends a year away from the press box, his normal place of work, and travels from South Africa to Adelaide and most places in between "watching the watchers" examines both fans' cynicism and their unrelenting support even when the latter appears completely illogical. As an 'outsider', Collins makes the gentlest of observations that are consistently accurate, prescient and very funny.

During the course of a year, he must have jettisoned plenty of material, but what remains, be it the darting encounter between Andy 'The Pie Man' Smith and Mervyn 'The King' King, an Ashes Test in Adelaide, a low-key swimming gala, or a county match at Canterbury, is marvellously crafted.

Collins recognises that our attitudes towards sport and sportsmen has changed over the past couple of decades. Where once polite applause would suffice, English cricket's Barmy Army now chant and cheer. Footballers returning from World Cup duty are perennially jeered. International rugby stars are no longer the automatic recipients of a pat on the back.

The author has had little difficulty embedding himself as an observer amongst the fans who pay at the gate and via their satellite TV subscription to watch top-flight sport nowadays. His illuminating comments are both amusing and perhaps explain why today's fan is considerably more vociferous than his father ever was.


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