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Fever Pitch ()

When I was in high school the NASL (North American Soccer League) started up and our local team, the New York Cosmos, famously brought in such international stars as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and others, along with the brash young American goalie, Shep Messing, offering a new enough and buzzworthy enough spectacle to periodically fill Giants Stadium. After Pele retired the team's most prolific scorer was Giorgio Chinaglia, who was so selfish and played so little defense that only the Italian fans at the game rooted for him. I used to like to go and sit with the Yugoslavian fans and cheer for Vito Dimitrijevic and against Chinaglia. And that's very much what the crowds were like--an ethnic mix rooting according to the country of origin of each player, not for the team. But when they unceremoniously dumped Messing and later it got hard to keep decent players in the States the team and the league quickly lost what fans they had. Nor has soccer fared any better in America since.

We always hear how soccer is about to break out, but it never does. This is yet another way in which America differs from the rest of the world, where "football" is easily the dominant sport. It's revealing that when it came time to make an American version of Fever Pitch, the fever was switched from Nick Hornby's for Arsenal to a more comprehensible mania for the Red Sox. Indeed, it wasn't until after watching that very funny film that I even realized it had been based on the earlier book and film. At any rate, having enjoyed Hornby's books High Fidelity and About a Boy, I figured I'd give his memoir a read, even if it is about soccer. But the differences are truly startling.

Perhaps it's unfair to compare soccer in Britain to baseball in New England, but it's hard not to in this case. For one thing, if I go to the local library or the post office or a kids' birthday party, more likely than not the topic of discussion when you see folks you know will be the Red Sox. Baseball in general and the Sox in particular are so thoroughly knit into the community that nothing could be more natural than to fret over their fortunes. And the Sox are quite notoriously the team seemingly most beloved of intellectuals and the literati--John Updike, Roger Angell, Stephen King, Stephen Jay Gould, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Stewart O'Nan are just a few of the well-respected authors who've written about them. Yet one of the main themes of Nick Hornby's book is his need to explain to his peers in the upper middle class, in the world of the arts, and on the Left how he could possibly be so declasse as to follow football. His apologetic tone throughout is awfully strange to the American reader and, in a book that's supposedly about his unwilling obsession with the Arsenal squad, has the effect of making one think that it is the very cult status of the fandom that draws him rather than anything intrinsic to the game. This feeling is reinforced by his obvious distaste for much of the culture surrounding the game -- hooliganism and the like -- and by the absence of any of the sorts of poetic descriptions of the actual play of the game that would be routine in a baseball memoir. Ultimately, Mr. Hornby isn't so much a fan of Arsenal or of soccer but a fan of being a fan.

Readers who have admired his books will by struck by how much he resembles one of the "heroes"of his own novels. In fact, he really lights up when he discusses music, which he clearly does love, in a way he doesn't when he describes soccer. And he is certainly as slow to grow up as any of his characters. It's interesting to read about how football filled a void in his life after his father left the family and how it became the one reliable point of contact with people like his step-brother, but it's also sad in the same way that John Cusack hanging out at his record store arguing with Jack Black is sad in the film version of High Fidelity. The book has funny moments and some insights about men and their relationship with sports teams, but it's kind of joyless and the comparison to the joyfulness of the recent movie makes that more pronounced.


Grade: (B-)


See also:

Nick Hornby (3 books reviewed)
Sports (General)
Nick Hornby Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: (Penguin Books)
    -Nick Hornby (Wikipedia)
    -SUBSTACK: Welcome to A Fan's Notes (NICK HORNBY)
-Nick Hornby (Contemporary Writers, British Arts Council)
    -Nick Hornby (The Guardian)
    -Fever Pitch (Wikipedia)
    -ESSAY: World Cup Soccer: England (Nick Hornby, June 2006, National Geographic)
-ESSAY: Why parents are angry about autism (Nick Hornby, February 10, 2002, The Observer)
    -PROFILE: Nick Hornby on Dave Eggers (Nick Hornby, February 16, 2003, The Observer)
    -INTERVIEW: Nick Hornby meets Tony Adams (Nick Hornby, September 3, 2000, The Observer)
    -NICK HORNBY (1958-) (The Guardian)
    -AUTHOR SITE: Nick Hornby (Penguin Books)
    -BBC - Books - Author Profile for Nick Hornby
    -Nick Hornby Home Page
    EXCERPT: from How to be Good by Nick Hornby
    -REVIEW: of BLOOD SONG A Silent Ballad. By Eric Drooker (Nick Hornby, NY Times Book Review)
    -INTERVIEW: Tales of ordinary madness: Nick Hornby's book 'Fever Pitch', the best-selling account of being a depressive-obsessive soccer fan, is now a film. (Helen O'Neill, August 16-17 1997, The Australian Magazine)
    -INTERVIEW: Laughing all the way to the cemetery: Nick Hornby has built a career on depression and the things that help him survive - football, music, books. His new novel tells the stories of four would-be suicides, but it's jauntier than ever. Can he really be so miserable? (Simon Hattenstone, April 23, 2005, The Guardian)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Nick Hornby on His New Novel, 'A Long Way Down' (Fresh Air from WHYY, June 15, 2005)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Novelist Nick Hornby's new book, Songbook, contains a collection of essays about Hornby's favorite pop tunes. It includes a meditation on a reggae version of "Puff the Magic Dragon." (Morning Edition, November 14, 2003)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Nick Hornby (Terry Gross, Fresh Air)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Novelist Nick Hornby (Fresh Air from WHYY, July 10, 2001)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Writer Nick Hornby: About a Boy (Fresh Air from WHYY, Sept. 26, 1995)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Nick Hornby's Songbook (Michael Goldfarb, 11/11/2003, The Connection)
    -INTERVIEW: LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE BOY!: About a Boy Author Nick Hornby Talks Music -- Then and Now (Barnes & Noble)
    -INTERVIEW: AN INTERVIEW WITH NICK HORNBY: How to be (a) Good (Novelist) (Sara Martin, May/June 2002, Barcelona Review)
    -INTERVIEW: The human factor: Nick Hornby discusses posterity, comedy, and his keenly awaited, compelling new book, How To Be Good (Robert McCrum, May 27, 2001, The Observer)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Nick Hornby (Barbara Lane, 03-22-01)
    -INTERVIEW: About Nick's boy: Until now Nick Hornby has said very little about his autistic son. (Matt Seaton, November 8, 2000, The Guardian)
    -Lit Chat with Nick Hornby (Salon)
    -INTERVIEW: About a writer: Nick Hornby talks about soccer, writing and a highly faithful adaptation of "High Fidelity." (Steffan Chirazi, Salon)
    -INTERVIEW: with Nick Hornby (Book Ends)
    -INTERVIEW: Gender Trouble : Patrick McGuigan talks with Nick Hornby about the changing roles of men and women in his new novel How To Be Good (Spike)
    -INTERVIEW: Nick Hornby (Interviewed by Francis Leach, November 1998, Headspace)
    -INTERVIEW: Nick Hornby's Funny Folk-Pop (Dave Weich,
    -CHAT: with Nick Hornby (Washington Post, July 10, 2001)
    -PROFILE: How to Be Great: His recipe: Write fine, best-selling novels, co-found a school for autistic children, and remind England of what it might be (Zadie Smith, 10/11/04, TIME Europe)
    -PROFILE: 'Good' Words: Nick Hornby examines dilemma of rock critics (Gina Arnold, 09/27/01, MetroActive)
    -PROFILE: of Nick Hornby : The good life (STEPHANIE BUNBURY, 06/02/01, The Age)
    -STUDY GUIDE: to About a Boy (Damaris)
    -STUDY GUIDE: to How to Be Good (Caroline Puntis, Damaris)
    -ESSAY: Fever Pitch (Erin Cunning, 03.07.04, Essay Depot)
    -TEACHING RESOURCES: Fever Pitch - Nick Hornby (BritLit, Using literature in the ELT classroom)
    -ARCHIVES: Nick Hornby (McSweeney's)
    -ESSAY: Football is not football: On the Europeanization of a once-American genre (Simon Kuper, 6 June 2021, The European Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby (CHRISTOPHER CLAREY, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Fever Pitch (Sean Smith,
    -REVIEW: of High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (Suzanne Moore, The Guardian )
    -REVIEW: of High Fidelity (HEATHER MALLICK, Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW: of About a Boy by Nick Hornby (Tobias Hill, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of About a Boy: (Dan DeLuca for The Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW: of About a Boy: (Daniel Lyons for Detroit Free-Press)
    -REVIEW: of About a Boy (WALTER KIRN, New York Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of About a Boy (James Sullivan, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of About a Boy (HEATHER MALLICK, Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW: of About a Boy (Nick Pollard, Damaris)
    -REVIEW: of About a Boy (Michelle Goldberg, MetroActive)
    -REVIEW: of How to Be Good by Nick Hornby (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of How to be Good (John Carey, Sunday Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of How to be Good (Tim Adams, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of How to be Good (Alex Clark, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of How to be Good (Rob Reuteman, Rocky Mountain News)
    -REVIEW: of How to Be Good (Jennifer Howard, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of How to be Good (Vicki Woods, Spectator uk)
    -REVIEW: of How to be Good (Pia Nordlinger, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of How to Be Good (Robert Allen Papinchak, Chicago Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of How to Be Good (Laura Miller, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of How to Be Good (Daniel Mendelsohn, New York)
    -REVIEW: of 'How to Be Good (David Kipen, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of How to Be Good (Douglas Levin, The Oregonian)
    -REVIEW: of How to Be Good (Clea Simon, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW: of How to Be Good (Katie Haegele, Flak)
    -REVIEW: of Songbook by Nick Hornby (Dave Weich,
    -REVIEW: of Songbook (GERALD MARZORATI, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of 31 Songs by Nick Hornby (Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of 31 Songs (John Peel, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer )
    -REVIEW: of A Long Way Down (Joanna Briscoe, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of A Long Way Down (Stephen Amidon, Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of A Long Way Down (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of A Long Way Down (Chris Heath, NY Times Book Review)

    -FILMOGRAPHY: Nick Hornby (
    -INFO: Fever Pitch (2005) (
    -INFO: About a Boy (
    -INFO: High Fidelity (
    -INFO: Fever Pitch (1997) (
    -Fever Pitch Articles and Information
    -REVIEW: of Fever Pitch (Katrina Onstad, CBC)
    -INTERVIEW: 'Even if it's your baby, you can't protect it': What's it like having your hugely successful books plundered for Hollywood adaptations? (John Millar, April 19, 2002, The Guardian)
    -ARTICLE: Hornby's unfaithful film wins rave review (Fiachra Gibbons, March 24, 2000, The Guardian)
    -OFFICIAL FILM SITE: About a Boy
    -About a Boy: Special Feature (BBCi)
    -REVIEW: of About a Boy (Kenneth Turan, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of About a Boy (Daniel Eagan , Film Journal)
    -REVIEW: ARCHIVES: reviews of High Fidelity (
    -AUDIO REVIEW: of High Fidelity (Bob Mondello, All Things Considered)

Book-related and General Links:
-ESSAY: People say my book sold football to the middle classes. I disagree' : 'Fever Pitch' author Nick Hornby reflects on the ways in which he, football and society itself have changed in the 20 years since his hit memoir was first published (Nick Hornby, 8/17/12, The Telegraph)