Sunday, July 2, 2017

Fever Pitch

In the Fall I will be teaching a course called, Sports, Media, and Communication.  I taught a similar course in 2010, but have been writing memos since then.  I bought a bushel of books to read to prepare for the class.  A web site listed the 100 best sports books ever.  I'd read several on the list, but many more I had not.  So I bought six or seven near the top.

Fever Pitch is a memoir of sorts by Nick Hornby.  He is probably more famous in the US for writing the novel that the John Cusick movie, High Fidelity, is based on.  Now that I have finished Fever Pitch and have read the front and back matter, I know that it was this memoir that catapulted Hornby to success.  It sold well apparently in the UK and, I'm extrapolating here, made him popular enough to secure publishers for five novels, four other nonfiction books, an anthology, and a screenplay.

Fever Pitch is about Hornby as a fanatic follower of Arsenal, a football (soccer to Americans) team in England.  A field is called a pitch when referring to soccer, and Hornby is feverish if not maniacal when it comes to his devotion to football/soccer.

It reads a bit, at the risk of sounding self congratulatory, like a description of soccer fans including himself who are akin to the basketball zealots I describe in Madness of March: Bonding and Betting with the Boys in Las Vegas.  I do think, however, that he is more extreme in his fanatical following of Arsenal than anyone I have known who follows hockey, basketball, football, or baseball in the US.  Readers of my book may remember that the epilogue describes serious New York Ranger hockey fans.  They seem relatively tame compared to how Hornby follows Arsenal.

Hornby can write and is very funny at times-actually often.  His description of similar fans, how his relationships with friends and sweethearts are affected, and comparisons of a last minute win to sexual climax are all well done and humorous. Similarly his assessment of the effects of media, culpability of ownership in creating some dangerous conditions, racism, and hooliganism are all insightful.

The problem I had with the read is that if you are not familiar with the game, and the stars of the game, you can get lost.  There are regular references to players on Arsenal, other teams in the league, and even techniques of play that for someone like me--quite knowledgeable about many sports--but with a limited background in football/soccer--were like pot holes in my ride through the memoir.  Also, the use of idioms common to people from across the ocean, is such that while clever and while I can get it, slowed me down as I processed the pages.

Good book. The author is self effacing--he knows he is a maniac. Fever Pitch is certainly a good snapshot that depicts how sports can consume those who are followers.  I think Hornby is an extreme example, however, and know he is compared to most crazies who follow the major sports in America. One interesting effect of the book is that it makes me want to watch soccer more regularly.

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