Fever Pitch, or How I Learned to Stop Rolling My Eyes and Enjoy Football

World Cup fever has gripped the world, even those of us who never intentionally watch soccer(which I will refer to as “football” for the rest of this post). And one of my goals was to finish the book Fever Pitch before the World Cup started. And so, I did.

I’m not going to say that reading the book changed my life. It didn’t. But the book helped me in my quest to understand the majority of my friends and my partner, who text each other whenever there’s a game going on. I usually know when this is going on, because his (my partner’s) cell phone starts chirping incessantly, and when I ask who it is, he tends to quietly murmur our uber-soccer-fan friend’s name and look sheepish. I know that it’s a football match when that happens, or that they’re ranting about a certain player, or arguing about why a certian player is/isn’t good. I’ve learned to stop asking questions, not about football, but about life (How is he? Has he been working on his novel? Got a compelling protagonist? Friends become enemies, enemies become friends? Hmm?) when this happens, because I’m going to get the “That is soooooo not important” look. 

Fever Pitch does not have the same plot as either of the movies (in the US, we have the baseball movie starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, about the obsessive BoSox fan; that was based on the British movie of the same name, which follows Colin Firth who’s an obsessive Arsenal fan, like Nick Hornby). The book, really, has no plot to speak of. Nick Hornby relates anecdotes, and progresses along a time line in which he explains relationships with various people (family, friends, girlfriends, coworkers) through the lens of football, and how he can see football affecting his life, but also how he has no idea why it affects his life so much. It just does, and he’s ok with that.

I’ve always loved Hornby’s writing style; it’s a very comfy way of writing to me, like a blanket I can wrap around my brain…it’s like chatting with a close friend, really. I have yet to read one of his books that I didn’t enjoy, so I wasn’t worried about that with Fever Pitch. I was, however, worried that, well, I just wouldn’t get it. I didn’t need to worry.

Do I understand the sport? Nope. I can follow it, and pick up bits of the rules, strategies, and player/club information as I go, like I’m a bird picking up shiny things. And really, that’s all I want to be able to do. What I did get from the book, as a casual enjoyer of football (and I’m a Rugby Girl at heart), is a sense of how someone can become that big a fan; it helped to put me in a place where I can understand people like my partner, and sympathize/empathize with him, and celebrate with him. Also, I’m better able to just sit and enjoy the sport; I’ve always appreciated football–it’s a hell of an endurance sport–but I’ve never really thought about the grace and beauty of the sport until I read Fever Pitch. I get that now.

One more thing: I love that Hornby calls out teams on the racism that has always occurred; things like fans throwing bananas at Black players (on their own team!!!!! askjfaiscniofcs;kj;dh!!!!) and all sorts of derogatory commentary from the stands have, it seems, always happened. And Hornby says, basically, that it needs to stop, because it’s ruining a beautiful sport and turning people (new players, new fans, etc) away from the game (and, you know, it’s just plain wrong). That said, he acknowledges that he’s having the “typical Liberal response” because he’s thinking about all the things he’d like to do or say to the racist rectal haberdashers, but that he’s too weak and lacks the courage of his convictions to do any of those things. It’s this sort of thing that keeps the narrative human and relatable, even if football’s not your obsession; it’s the sort of thing that we all deal with, on different levels, and I appreciate him not sugar-coating the stupid violence and hatred that can be created/engendered by the sport.

I’d recommend this to anyone who loves football, knows someone who obsesses over football, or someone who likes good conversations, because this book definitely provides that. It can drag from time to time, but never too much. I’d give it a solid “A.”