Abstract

The passions of spectators have played a vital role in the transformation of games like baseball, Association football, and Australian Rules football into strikingly powerful institutions of popular culture, yet these spectators have largely remained on the margins of sports history. One reason for this has been the difficulty in tracing the various terms and phrases used to describe spectator cultures through the print archive of one sport, let alone comparing this with sports in other countries. This paper explores the way the increasing digitization of newspapers, journals, magazines, and other textual sources allows for the beginning of what might be termed a cultural history 2.0 of sports spectators and sports history more generally. Drawing on three digital archives, it begins the process of tracing the uses and meanings associated with the terms “cranks” and “barrackers” and the phrase “football fever” that were deployed to describe and represent the zealous spectator cultures that emerged around baseball in the United States, Australian Rules football in Australia, and Association football in the United Kingdom in the late 1800s. The digitized sources compared in this paper suggest the bodies of fans, as well as athletes, played a key role in the development of modern spectator sports.

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