Books and Movies Reviews

Fever Pitch

Nick Hornby has been a soccer fan since the moment he was conceived. Fever Pitch is his tribute to a lifelong obsession. Part autobiography, part comedy, part incisive analysis of insanity, Hornby’s award-winning memoir captures the fever pitch of fandom—its agony and ecstasy, its community, its defining role in thousands of young men’s coming of age stories. Fever Pitch is one for the home team. But above all, it is one for everyone who knows what it really means to have a losing season.

In the States, Nick Hornby is best know as the author of High Fidelity and About a Boy, two wickedly funny novels about being thirtysomething and going nowhere fast. In Britain he is revered for his status as a fanatical football writer (sorry, fanatical soccer writer), owing to Fever Pitch–which is both an autobiography and a footballing Bible rolled into one. Hornby pinpoints 1968 as his formative year–the year he turned 11, the year his parents separated, and the year his father first took him to watch Arsenal play. The author quickly moved “way beyond fandom” into an extreme obsession that has dominated his life, loves, and relationships. His father had initially hoped that Saturday afternoon matches would draw the two closer together, but instead Hornby became completely besotted with the game at the expense of any conversation: “Football may have provided us with a new medium through which we could communicate, but that was not to say that we used it, or what we chose to say was necessarily positive.” Girlfriends also played second fiddle to one ball and 11 men. He fantasizes that even if a girlfriend “went into labor at an impossible moment” he would not be able to help out until after the final whistle. Fever Pitch is not a typical memoir–there are no chapters, just a series of match reports falling into three time frames (childhood, young adulthood, manhood). While watching the May 2, 1972, Reading v. Arsenal match, it became embarrassingly obvious to the then 15-year-old that his white, suburban, middle-class roots made him a wimp with no sense of identity: “Yorkshire men, Lancastrians, Scots, the Irish, blacks, the rich, the poor, even Americans and Australians have something they can sit in pubs and bars and weep about.” But a boy from Maidenhead could only dream of coming from a place with “its own tube station and West Indian community and terrible, insoluble social problems.” Fever Pitch reveals the very special intricacies of British football, which readers new to the game will find astonishing, and which Hornby presents with remarkable humor and honesty–the “unique” chants sung at matches, the cold rain-soaked terraces, giant cans of warm beer, the trains known as football specials carrying fans to and from matches in prisonlike conditions, bottles smashing on the tracks, thousands of policemen waiting in anticipation for the cargo of hooligans. The sport and one team in particular have crept into every aspect of Hornby’s life–making him see the world through Arsenal-tinted spectacles. –Naomi Gesinger

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