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Fever Pitch

10 Ratings: 2.8
A book by Nick Hornby

In the States, Nick Hornby is best know as the author ofHigh FidelityandAbout 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 … see full wiki

Author: Nick Hornby
Genre: Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction, Sports
Publisher: Riverhead Trade
1 review about Fever Pitch

Give Me Fever

  • Jul 25, 2010
Rating:
+5
Pros: Nick Hornby's style is always brilliant

Cons: Some readers may not understand because it's soccer

The Bottom Line: Go Buffalo Sabres!

Okay, I know I risk jumping the shark by reviewing Fever Pitch. This is, after all, a website about BASEBALL literature. But in 2005, Fever Pitch was made into a movie in which the main character's life revolved around the Boston Red Sox instead of Arsenal FC, and that's all the justification I need. I'm also writing this because Fever Pitch is possibly the greatest sports book ever written, and I wanted to tell everyone about it.

At the end of this past May, I was faced with a dilemma: My friend Katy was leaving Chicago to work briefly for an overseas charity before hauling off to an Americorps program in Milwaukee, which naturally necessitated a going-away shindig in her honor. The day of the party, however, coincided with the first game of hockey's Stanley Cup Finals, in which one of my favorite teams, the Chicago Blackhawks, was competing. Having seen one of my favorite hockey teams (the 1999 Buffalo Sabres) skate in the Finals only once before and being without a recording method, I didn't want to miss my Hawks take on one of my least favorite teams, the Philadelphia Flyers. My ultimate decision was that my friendship with Katy was more important than the Blackhawks, and despite having missed what was apparently an epic hockey game, I can honestly say I have absolutely no regrets about my choice.

As I read Fever Pitch, I was put under the impression that author/narrator Nick Hornby would have skipped the party to watch the game were he in my situation. Here's a guy who, when his girlfriend offered to take him to Paris for a weekend, was visibly upset because the trip would mean he had to miss a very important soccer game between his beloved Arsenal FC and their main rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. (Also known as Spurs.) Here's a guy who, during a tenure as an english teacher, threw a barrage of questions out at a student who dared insult his knowledge of soccer. 

Fever Pitch is not so much about a team playing a sport as it is about the obsessive fandom that can go with following that team. It is because of this that Fever Pitch can resonate with anyone, regardless of affiliation or even sport. It is relatively easy to read Hornby's first essay in the book, in which he describes the way he fell in love with the team he just watched beat Stoke 1-0 on a penalty rebound, beginning a lifelong affair the author's father first tried to diffuse by taking him to a Spurs game soon after, and think "yep, that's exactly how it is." It really doesn't matter - many a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers, or Seattle Mariners has had the spell cast in this very same fashion. And who can't relate when Hornby muses "Much of my knowledge of locations in Britain and Europe comes not from school, but from away games or the sports pages...."

There are points, however, in which Hornby does come off as far more obsessive than the average fan. As he admits in the introduction, for large chunks of an ordinary day, he is a moron. 

Hornby, whose memory seems astonishingly accurate, takes us through a large number of Arsenal games. While the games themselves are not always chronicled in a ton of detail, he usually remembers a few of the big general details and he always tells us just how relevant it is, or how it's related to something which was going on in his life at the time. Sometimes, the story he tells for a particular game is just an amusing personal anecdote, such as one story where he lies about where he's from to impress a family. (Hornby admits that he's ashamed of his suburban upbringing and would rather be from a more ethnically or culturally rooted neighborhood.)

Fever Pitch is written in more a tone of befuddlement and bemusement than anything else. It's like Hornby is recalling all his memories, looking them over, and saying to himself "I can't believe I used to be like this." While Hornby seems a little embarrassed to be writing all of this down, his embarrassment is just another aspect of Fever Pitch that makes it so endearing. Again, it goes back to the fact that every soul slave to a sports team can almost see the author winking at them in a knowing way. They've been through all of it too - games with the folks, the attempt to ditch the team because of bigger issues, and the agony of seeing the team doing well only so it will collapse at the worst possible moment. 

Not every game in Fever Pitch revolves around Arsenal FC. Some games revolve around other teams, some revolve around national teams, and some even revolve around games between friends in which Hornby personally partook. But they all helped shape Hornby's obsession with soccer. Oddly enough, these stories - even the ones in which Hornby took an active role in a game with friends - seem less personal than his ruminates on Arsenal. With the national teams and other league teams, this would be expected - it is, after all, Arsenal which means the most of any of those. But the participatory matches with his friends are also talked about from a lower personal roost than the Arsenal games. This isn't a complaint, mind you, but I would expect something more from a guy who had a stake in the direction the game took. 

Fever Pitch is about more than being a fan. It's about how the fortunes of a sports team can resonate with the followers of that team, about the relevance of the team in the fans' lives, and about how the attitude of a person can be affected by his team's fortunes on the field. I don't have a big problem with people who say they don't understand professional sports and don't follow them. I do, however, have problems when these people hack up their critical theories on why everyone else should follow their sterling example by ignoring them. For all of the ways professional sports fans can relate to Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch, it's these critical theorists who may stand to gain the most from reading it.


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