Nick Hornby is a man defined by his obsessions. In his Believe column he catalogues both his extensive monthly reading and his even more extensive book buying. His obsession with music is obvious from his essay collection Sonngbook and the novel High Fidelity, whose protagonist is forever making lists of various best songs. But perhaps his principal obsession is with Arsenal, the venerable English football club whose games have thrilled and tormented Hornby since he was 11 years old.
Published in 1992 when the author was in his mid-thirties, Fever Pitch is a chronicle of how football, and specifically Arsenal football, came to dominate and shape his life. Starting with a trip with his father in 1968 in the midst of his parents’ separation, Arsenal was a steadying force for young Hornby and a way to finally connect with his father. It also gave him an identity at school, where he was the only Arsenal fan (he grew up in the Home Counties, not London) but still at least had something in come with most of his peers. When Arsenal won big over the weekend he could stride into school Monday morning with pride, but when they blew a game they should have won he dreaded the torment of the other boys.
This is all fairly standard stuff, recognizable in any number of sports fans you might know in your own life. But Hornby writes about it very perceptibly, and is refreshingly candid about his own personality flaws and the ways in which they are exacerbated by his football obsession. He ignores work obligations, family occasions, and even loses friendships over his need to be at every Arsenal home game. Even the violence of hooligans, the ever-increasing price of tickets, and rising number of games on television can keep away from the grounds. There are moments when he has to admit it doesn’t really make sense.
Though this isn’t a history of football by any means it is heavy with the moment in time in which it was written. Football in the ’80s was at a low ebb due to hooliganism, racism, and dangerous crowds even before the terrible Hillsborough disaster of 1989, in which nearly one hundred spectators died. The resulting outrage lead to many changes to the business of football in England, but one thing it didn’t do was cause Hornby to stop going to games.
Fever Pitch is insightful, honest, and at times very funny. It’s a book that can be enjoyed by Hornby’s fellow football obsessives and by those merely seeking to understand them.