The watchers watched: Collins delivers a masterclass in the art of sharp and witty observation

William Hill Sports Book of the Year award -- the contenders

The winner of the 2011 William Hill Sports Book of the Year will be revealed on Monday.  This week, The Sports Bookshelf presents a run-down of the seven titles on the short list. Today:

Among the Fans (Wisden Sports Writing)


Patrick Collins has been writing about sport for almost half a century, for the last 30 years as chief sports writer for the Mail on Sunday.  For the most part during that time -- as you would expect -- his eyes have been focused on the field of play.

He has reported on Olympic Games and World Cups, countless Test matches, rugby internationals and world title fights, and described the action in such consistently stylish and well-judged prose that he has gathered almost as many awards as he has had years in the newspaper business, including the ultimate accolade of sports journalist of the year on five occasions.

Yet for Among the Fans, Collins turned his focus away from the arena, or at least from the action taking place, in order to observe the participants without whom the great events he has witnessed would have been merely for the amusement of those taking part -- the supporters.

During a year or so on the road, Collins watched the watchers at some of sport’s great showpieces -- the World Cup in South Africa, an Ashes Test in Adelaide, Wimbledon, the Cheltenham Festival among them -- but also in the rather less rarefied atmosphere of a point-to-point meeting in rural Sussex, a dog track in Kent and a speedway meeting in Eastbourne.  He devotes one chapter to a night spent at the BBC in West London, sitting in while Alan Green converses with the nation on the 606 phone-in.

The end result is an effortless read from the writer most respected and admired by his peers, sometimes gentle and affectionate in its observations, at other times unapologetically critical, yet with the barbs carried always by a clever turn of phrase rather than trenchant, boorish rant.

Among the Fans is a first offering from Wisden Sports Writing, a new imprint from Bloomsbury that promises a small and very selective annual catalogue. Collins has set a high bar for titles that follow.


“He has a way of skewering his targets without forfeiting his own civility…during a lovingly detailed description of the annual Canterbury cricket festival, he steps aside to sketch the late EW Swanton, the grand panjandrum of the Daily Telegraph's cricket coverage: ‘An aristocrat by everything but birth, he acquired a repertoire of patrician airs which were so convincing they might almost have been authentic‘.”
-- Richard Williams, the Guardian. Read more…

“A deeply enjoyable and often very funny book which should persuade those who didn't know it already just how brilliantly readable Collins is.”
-- Simon Redfern, the Independent on Sunday. Read more…

“A masterful piece of writing… is a light and humorous read, in the style popularised by Bill Bryson, rather than an analytical tract.”
-- Simon Briggs, the Daily Telegraph. Read more…


Patrick Collins began his newspaper career with the Kentish Mercury in 1962. He subsequently wrote for the News of the World, the London Evening News and the London Evening Standard before becoming chief sports writer for the Mail on Sunday in 1982, a position he still holds.

* * * * * * * 

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award is the world's longest established and most valuable literary sports-writing prize. As well as a £23,000 cash prize, the winning author will receive a £2,000 William Hill bet, a hand-bound copy of their book, and a day at the races. 

The judging panel for this year’s award consists of broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; broadcaster Danny Kelly; and columnist and author, Alyson Rudd. Chairman of the panel is John Gaustad, co-creator of the award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop. 

The winner will be announced at a lunchtime reception at Waterstone’s Piccadilly (London), Europe’s largest bookstore, on Monday 28th November.


The shortlist in full:
2. Into The Arena: The World of the Spanish Bullfight by Alexander Fiske-Harrison (Profile Books)
3. The Ghost Runner: The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn't Stop by Bill Jones (Mainstream Publishing)
4. Engage: The Fall and Rise of Matt Hampson by Paul Kimmage (Simon & Schuster)
6. A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng (Yellow Jersey Press)
7. 32 Programmes by Dave Roberts (Bantam Press)

Buy Among the Fans direct from Amazon 


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