A new sporting imprint is always welcome, and Wisden Sports Writing have made a very promising start with Among the Fans.
Pat Collins is the sportswriters' sportswriter – his peers have voted him sportswriter of the year on no fewer than five occasions – and has long stood out as a beacon of good-humoured fair-mindedness and memorable phrasemaking. After 40-odd years, Collins still feels privileged to be paid for watching the world's biggest sporting occasions, but decided to step down from the press box temporarily to visit a mixed bag of events as a spectator.
Some are predictable – the 2010 World Cup, a rugby international at Twickenham, an Ashes Test, Wimbledon – but others are more eclectic. He starts with a point-to-point in Sussex, where he mingles with "men with brick-red faces and the kind of flat caps that confer an air of mysterious authority", before moving on to speedway at Eastbourne and Crayford dogs, all of which he enjoys while admiring the dedication of the supporters of these less-than-mainstream pursuits.
He is never condescending, but isn't slow to criticise when appropriate; he finds the "artless self-promotion" of England cricket's Barmy Army "pompous beyond parody", describes David Mellor presenting the radio football phone-in 606 as "beyond satire, a rural dean attempting to rap", and is distinctly underwhelmed by the preening posturings of past champions and the boorish baying of the crowd at the World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace.
Yet mostly his enjoyment of time spent with the paying public is buoyantly evident, and his prose is always pitch-perfect. The result is a deeply enjoyable and often very funny book which should persuade those who didn't know it already just how brilliantly readable Collins is.
Published in hardback by Wisden Sports Writing, £18.99Reuse content