- Paperback: 247 pages
- Publisher: Riverhead Books; 1st Riverhead trade pbk. ed edition (March 1, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781573226882
- ISBN-13: 978-1573226882
- ASIN: 1573226882
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 166 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #206,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Fever Pitch Paperback – March 1, 1998
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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
*Starred Review* Hornby’s current ubiquity—he edits anthologies, his books have become movies, his YA novel was well received, and he even recently became a pop lyricist—makes it hard to remember the freshness of his voice when we first heard it. Given that this, his first book, was about his obsessive relationship with the north London soccer team, Arsenal, many Americans didn’t hear that voice until High Fidelity (1995), a novel that riffed on the broader subject of favorite bands and songs. In soccer-mad England, Fever Pitch (published in the UK in 1992) was a career-maker. Each chapter includes a title, a game, and a date (e.g., “Boys and Girls: Arsenal v. Leicester City, 2.4.77”). And, to a degree, each chapter follows a formula. Hornby relates some aspect of his life (in this case, his first serious relationship) and how it relates to a particular game (she was the first girlfriend who came to the stadium with him). But if the format is formulaic, the execution is anything but. In the above chapter, Hornby recalls the way his girlfriend’s room showed evidence of “knowledge gleaned from somewhere outside the A-level syllabus” while lamenting that young men “were defined only by the number and extent of our interests.” He concludes that, although he may have lacked depth compared to her, at least his fandom gave him “a couple of features other than a nose, two eyes, and a mouth.” Sometimes the shortness of the chapters is frustrating, like a referee blowing the whistle for halftime when your team is moving the ball toward the goal, but the too-frequent stops are redeemed by Hornby’s seemingly inexhaustible turns of phrase. He examines his life from adolescence to adulthood—the transition that informs nearly all of his work since—with uncommon insight, wit, humility, and grace. He enumerates his own failings with as much zeal as those of the Football Association, always returning to the central question of what it means to be a fan. It says a great deal about the complexity and intelligence of this book that Hornby can simultaneously mock his own arrested development while finding joy and even meaning in the attachment to a team that doesn’t know he exists. (As was then the case; they certainly do know now.) Even though the first U.S. edition of Fever Pitch was timed to coincide with our hosting of the World Cup, the book didn’t gain as much traction as it might have. For many new fans, interest in the sport lasted only until the U.S. team’s elimination at the hands of Brazil. But 16 years later, the book has become something of a cult favorite. Soccer is bigger now, and the terminology and context are more familiar to U.S. readers. But the book’s larger themes are as universal as ever. --Keir Graff
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You don't have to be an Arsenal fan to enjoy the book, and thankfully you don't even have to be British. Yes, of course there were specific statistical references that went over my head, but the important concepts in the book come through (to be specific: loneliness, and the efforts to fill that void through either family or fanship). So do the many nuggets of truth, especially about youth.
My favorite passage:
"Sport doesn't allow you to dream in the way that writing or acting or painting or middle-management does: I knew when I was eleven that I would never play for Arsenal. Eleven is too young to know something as awful as that." p.244
Some more of my favorites:
"The natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score." p.20
"Of course I feel nostalgic, even if I am longing for a time which never really belonged to us." p.31
"After my initial alarm I grew to love the movement, the way I was thrown toward the pitch and suck back again." p.75
"You stand there in the shadowed dark looking down into the light, on to the brilliant lush green and it's as if you are in a cinema watching a film about another and more exotic country." p.185
Hornby, of course, is a talented writer and his enthusiasm (and frustrations) come through very well in the prose.
I did learn quite a bit about the history and psychology of the Arsenal football club and that was the most interesting portion of the book for me. I now understand much better why Arsenal developed a reputation over the years as being "boring" and I thought the portion of the book where Hornby described the club's flirtation with "Total Football" to be interesting. There just wasn't enough of that sort of content in the book to hold my interest. If you are an Arsenal fan, I think this would be an excellent book to learn more about the history of the club as seen through a fan's eyes who watched it unfold over the years.
Delightful prose adds to one's pleasure, but for the most part this is a funny, yet often times, poignant book. As a Manchester United supporter, I even found myself identifying with Arsenal (no small feat!). Highly recommended for anyone who is a fan of English Football, or even for fans of any sport, anywhere.