Book Review: Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby -- or what it means to be a fan

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - JULY 16: Chicago Fire fans light flares during the match between the Chicago Fire and the Portland Timbers during an MLS match on July 16, 2011 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

Superficially, Fever Pitch (by Nick Hornby) is about Arsenal. Superficially, it's all about Arsenal's ups and downs, the history of the club, and how the wins and losses intertwined with the author's life.

If you look closer, however, what the book is actually about is being a fan. It's about being obsessive. It's about falling into long daydreams about a good game your team once had or fretting over a bad run and when somebody asks "What are you thinking about?", not being able to explain it. If you say you're thinking about your team, it sounds a bit stupid and trite, so sometimes you have to lie.

"But then, obsessives have no choice; they have to lie on occasions like this. If we told the truth every time, then we would be unable to maintain relationships with anyone from the real world."


(After the jump: more of the review, plus quotes from various sports fans.)

The book is about loving a team so much that you might sometimes hate them just a little. It's about the quirks of being a sports fan; the rampant superstition and knowing that you can't influence the result (but you have to do something), being selfishness, being unreasonable, and sometimes, after you've had a miserable day and then your team lost, feeling like your own fortunes are intrinsically linked to that of your own team.

"See after awhile it all gets mixed up together in your head, and you can't remember whether life's shit because Arsenal are shit or the other way around."


The book is a personal memoir, a tribute to Arsenal, and a mirror for sports fans everywhere. A smidgen of Premier League knowledge is preferable. It may be slightly overwhelming unless you know that there are draws and cup replays, and understand a little bit about the culture, the hooliganism, and history involved -- but the book is so engaging that it almost doesn't matter. It's funny, too. It's a bit tongue-in-cheek and throughout it Nick Hornby laughs at himself and his compatriots without making sports fans as a whole seem too stupid. Granted, this is because he outrightly calls himself and the rest of the obsessives idiots, but I will gladly accept this title, and the way he writes about it makes it almost logical. Almost.

Drawing from his own experiences, he puts being a sports fan into written word.

"While the details here are unique to me, I hope that they will strike a chord with anyone who has ever found themselves drifting off, in the middle of a working day or a film or a conversation, towards a left-foot volley into a top right-hand corner ten or fifteen or twenty-five years ago."

With some help from a few friends and acquaintances, I put together a Fever Pitch-esque collection of quotes. Some are from soccer fans. A couple are not. Some are from supporters of their team from childhood. Some are not. Some of these quotes are from fans who live thousands of miles away from their team. No matter what the case, though, I think these quotes will resonate with anyone reading this review. We are all fans.

Before I leave you to it, a huge thanks to everyone who responded to me, and I hope everyone reading enjoys this slightly more special review that I put together before tomorrow's home opener. Tomorrow, let's be unreasonable, superstitious, and idiotic about the Chicago Fire together.

---

"I love Juventus as I love almost nothing else. They're a lifestyle. When I take a shower in the morning, that week's match or a player injury, etc usually crosses my mind at some point. When I'm at work, my mind often goes to Juve. I build my schedule around their matches. My mental state usually falls in line with their results."

[...]

Losing is horrid. There's no other way to put it. It saps my energy, and depending on the kind of loss, makes me anti-social for a few days. An infuriating loss makes me want to rant, to family, to fellow supporters, to my poor bff. I want to analyze all of the "shit that went down". I want to be masochistic about it on some level. Some losses though are just sad. I want to drink. I'm mopey at work. I want to be left alone and don't want to think about the match."

--Allison, Juventus fan

"I enjoy following TFC because it's like a hometown team for me (I live east of Toronto). It's a young team so it's like you're witnessing history happen right in front of you, and that makes it feel special. Times have been rough, and it's not a team that does particularly well, but it doesn't matter because it's ours, it's home. Whenever we get a great win or a domestic cup or get a step further in a competition, it feels so sweet because of all the hard times that came before."

--Sairax, Toronto FC fan

"I've only been a City fan since 2004, so the refrain "typical City" resonates a little less with me than some of lifelong fans. City has had a great run of form over the last few years too. Still, nothing guts me like a loss. I try to shake it off, congratulate the other team, and get my day back on track, but that's often easier said than done.

[...]

Wins are euphoric. There is nothing like hearing the supporters sing "Blue Moon" or watching them do the Poznan. Manchester City's tradition is so rich, nothing is more deserved for the club and its fans than earning three points."

--Matt Darst, Manchester City fan

"People fall out of love with their childhood teams all the time. Perhaps they nurse a small bit of sympathy- they check the scores every now and then, and they smile to themselves when the club wins a trophy. It's easy to lose touch, I suppose, but then again, I wouldn't know.

I never fell out of love with Real Madrid. Through the late '90s, I watched Raúl and Mori tear apart seasoned defenses with ease. I watched Madrid win a few league trophies, a few champions leagues. Then came the revolving door of managers, and through it all, Madrid kept its identity whole. Madridismo may have been tested, but it never faltered. It was to madridismo that I clung, watching matches at home with my family and at school on my laptop, refreshing grainy streams every few minutes and praying I didn't miss a goal."

--Hannah, Real Madrid fan

"I enjoy having a sense of being part of my family that, regardless of where they are, feel the same way as I do when the team in black and white is on the pitch. I love the tradition of my Atlético Mineiro, the way it was started over 100 years ago by a group of students. I enjoy knowing that a club can carry on through generations, and you'll be a small part of it while you live."

-- Deborah Ferreira, Atlético Mineiro fan

"I am a fan of 1. FSV Mainz 05 in the German Bundesliga. Mainz is a small team with reasonably small dreams but a huge heart. I love Mainz because I feel like it is run by people who also love it and have the same goals and desires as I do. Every decision made by the club feels genuine, driven not by commercial aspirations but a love of football and a desire to create a family which includes both the team and the fans."

--Anne Gillies, Mainz fan

"When the Dodgers win, it's like my family just won, because they've been such a HUGE part of my life. I feel protective of the players and I lose my mind when they're successful. I tear up just thinking about Clayton Kershaw pitching a no-hitter or a perfect game someday. When Matt Kemp was chasing 50/50 last year, I held my breath through every at-bat. When the Dodgers win, it's like the day is brighter and if at all possible, I always play "I Love LA" by Randy Newman, because that's what they play at Chavez Ravine after every Dodger win."

--Nicole Lechuga, Dodgers fan

"It's about how nothing else matters after you win. There's also a bit of that after a loss, too, though. There's nothing like a crowd of thousands of people sullenly leaving a stadium all heart-broken because their dumb team just couldn't get it done. It's terrible, but it's kind of wonderful at the same time because you're all together and nothing outside the stadium matters for that moment. This is possibly unhealthy, but there's nothing really healthy about being a sports fan."

--Angie, fan of various South Florida teams

"[I love following Manchester United] I think for the same reason anyone loves their team - the community, the emotion, the excitement. It's very tribal in some ways. To me there's no experience quite like being in a football crowd, 75,000 strong if you're at Old Trafford - the noise, the chants, the feeling of being one with everyone around you. The way everyone cheers at the same time, stands up at the same time, the kind of collective emotion, it's electric. I still remember the way I felt when I went to my first football match, walking up the steps, hearing the hum of the crowd before I came out into the stands and saw it all spread out before me, the green pitch, the bright lights. It was...electric is the only word for it. I feel the same thing every time I go to a game, walking up to the stadium through the crowds and the stalls, it's like a carnival atmosphere, the feeling of just-suppressed excitement.

And there's the other side too - just as the tribalism can lead to horrible things, horrible words and accusations and chants, it's good at bringing people together. When you're at Old Trafford, there's no black and white, no Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, no male and female. You're all United fans. You're all in it together. And those eleven men on the pitch are your family, and you support them through thick and thin."

--Denorios, Manchester United fan

"The friendships that are made are as deep as family ties, you have cried, bled, drank, mourned, and joyed with these people... that's family. I have spent more time with my fellow Section 8 on tour regulars than any of my friends from highschool since I was 18.

[...]

Winning at home is a high not matched by any narcotic. Stress is killed, life is good. When you travel away and have the whole 3pts to come home with, there is not a price I wouldn't pay for that feeling. Winning makes me Dance."

--Pattrick WB05 and S8OT, Chicago Fire fan

When there is some kind of triumph, the pleasure does not radiate from the players outwards until it reaches the likes of us at the back of the terraces in a pale and diminished form; our fun is not a watery version of the team's fun [...]. The joy we feel on occasions like this is not a celebration of others' good fortune, but a celebration of our own; and when there is a disastrous defeat the sorrow that engulfs us is, in effect, self-pity, and anyone who wishes to understand how football is consumed must realize this above all things.

All quotes from Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, Riverhead Books, 1992

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