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Sports Spectators by Allen Guttmann (Columbia University: $24.95; 215 pp.)

November 09, 1986|Fred Moramarco | Moramarco is the former book review editor for "Arete: The Journal of Sports Literature," published at San Diego State University. and

Allen Guttmann has noticed that in the torrent of recently published books about professional sports, very little is ever said about the people who make it possible for the pros to be pros: the fans who keep the turnstiles clicking. To correct this deficiency, he has written a history of sports spectators from the ancient Greeks who watched athletic matches at Olympia and Delphi to the rowdy mob of British soccer fans from Liverpool who killed 40 people and injured 100 more during the aftermath of the 1985 European Cup Finals in Belgium.

But Guttmann by no means concentrates exclusively on fan violence. He wants answers to many broadly based sociological queries about sports fans such as what social classes they belong to, what their motives are for attending athletic events, and which sports seem to be most popular at different times in human history.

Though these questions are so broad that they often invite considerable academic hedging, Guttmann is at his best when dealing with modern Anglo-American sports where evidence is plentiful. But the book seems uncertain of the audience it is aimed at, mixing large amounts of social statistics with occasional sweeping pronouncements directed to the general reader. Guttmann's concluding sentences, for example, are reminiscent of Carl Sagan: "In the immensity of astronomical space, we are alone on this tiny planet, on this spinning ball of Earth. In that sense, all of us are on the home team. May the best person win."

"Sports Spectators" is not a definitive account of the subject, but since a lot more of us are fans than players, it opens up an important area for future research.

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