Fever Pitch (1992)
Written by: Nick Hornby
Since there’s some big tournament going on right now, I figured the timing was right to review Nick Hornby‘s non-fiction ode to his love of soccer. Having recently read, and loved, Hornby’s High Fidelity, I decided to give the rest of his catalogue a shot, starting with this one.
I was a little trepidacious about this book. I love Hornby’s wit and observations on life, and hoped that Fever Pitch would be able to make some universal observations while examining Hornby’s personal obsession with football and his beloved Arsenal. I was worried that it would be too much about soccer, a sport for which, like most good North Americans, I have almost no interest in whatsoever. I gave it a shot anyway. Who knows? Maybe it would help me figure out what the rest of the world sees in that game?
Luckily, Hornby’s collection of short essays that follow his obsession through descriptions of games and players that he followed from his first on September 14, 1968 through to January 11, 1992 was a delight to read. Funny, self-aware, and incredibly insightful, the book details Hornby’s personal obsession with Arsenal, but speaks in terms that can be applied to fandom of any sport, or even non-sport interest. For the most part, I could relate to what Hornby was describing by simply replacing the word “football” with… well, “football” I suppose would work (but, you know, the other kind). Particularly insightful is Hornby’s assertion that being a fan isn’t a fun activity, but rather a way to engage in shared misery with others of your ilk. This particular observation has taken on new meaning for me over the past few days.
The book drags for me at times when the focus is more squarely on the actual game of soccer, as opposed to using the game as a means to make observations on life in general. I can honestly say that I came away from the book with no new understanding about the appeal of the game, other than its ability to abuse its fans and dash their dreams… which I get. I’m a Minnesota Vikings fan after all. Other than that, I came away with no desire to watch a game. In fact, I may have come away with a few new reasons not to. Part of the issue may be that Hornby’s beloved Arsenal, for most of their history, have played an uninspired brand of soccer, one only a fan could love.
Thankfully, the aim of Fever Pitch isn’t to explain the appeal of soccer, but rather to shed light on the life of a fan. An obsessive fan to be sure (Hornby admits this himself), but a fan nonetheless. It’s a brilliant affirmation of the role of the fan in sport, one that should appeal to fans of all sports, and perhaps lend some understanding to those wishing to understand the sports fan in their life.