Thursday, March 04, 2010

Fever Pitch...akin to SciFi

I've never been much of a SciFi reader, though I do love a good time-travel story, mostly because I am completely in love with planet Earth and have no desire to venture out into the universe. I am a xenophobic Earthling, and much prefer reading about variations on my world than fantastic imaginings of other worlds. Plus, I have a hard time getting into new books (who's who, etc.), so having to deal with alternative physics, moons, and bodily functions overwhelms me

That said, I found myself in a completely alien world over this past week while I was reading Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch
, which is a psychoanalytic exploration of his lifelong obsession with football (aka in the U.S. as soccer) and the London team Arsenal. I read it pretty faithfully, though after awhile I admit that it was hard to read every word related to games that occurred sometime between 1968 and 1992, involving players that I had never heard of before and probably never will again. I also learned a fair amount of new terminology related to U.K. soccer stadiums, logistics, scheduling, and especially fandom.

Through it all, I did feel as if I was reading a sci-fi book. Fever Pitch is inhabited by creatures that spoke, acted, and lived in a way very foreign to me, and yet, like all good books, sci-fi or otherwise, the author was able to find a way that I could relate to it. I don't know anyone obsessed with UK football--I don't even know anyone personally who has ever even watched a UK football game--and yet I do know and live with a sports fanatic, my 15-year old daughter. She lives and breathes American baseball just as Nick Hornby lives and breathes UK football, and reading this book gave me insight into her world and obsession and the behavior it provokes.

Not only that, Hornby is a good writer, and just when I felt like I was wasting my time and should abandon Fever Pitch for something more relevant to my life, say another Heyer Regency Romance, he would throw in a paragraph that eloquently tied his ramblings together and made me sigh and realize that Fever Pitch was really worth reading.

Here are a few of those paragraphs:

"...I am not saying that the anally retentive woman does not exist, but she is vastly outnumbered by her masculine equivalent; and while there are women with obsessions, they are usually, I think, obsessive about people, or the focus for their obsessions changes frequently."

I think this is, for the most part, true. Women obsess about people more than things.

"...though I still go to every home game, and feel the same tensions and elations and glooms that I have always felt, I now understand them to have an entirely separate identity whose success and failure has no relationship with my own. That night, I stopped by an Arsenal lunatic and relearnt how to be a fan, still cranky, and still dangerously obsessive, but only a fan nonetheless."

I liked the distinction between a sports lunatic and a fan. One is crazy, the other just acts like it, but acting and being are two different things.

"This Wembley win belonged to me every bit as much as it belonged to...and I worked every bit as hard for it as they did. The only difference between me and them [the players] is that I have put in more hours, more years, more decades than them, and so had a better understanding of the afternoon, a sweeter appreciation of why the sun still shines when I remember it."

I have never before read anything that so articulately expresses the feeling of belonging that true fans of a club or sport have towards it--being a fan is an active role, not merely watching, but participating and playing a role.

"So football is regarded as a given disability that has to be worked around. If I were wheelchair-bound, nobody close to me would organize anything in a topfloor flat, so why would they plan anything for a winter Saturday afternoon?"

Interesting idea, but I don't buy it!

With regards to winning a championship, he says...
"I recall nothing else that I have coveted for two decades (what else is there that can reasonably be coveted for that long?), nor can I recall anything else that I have desired as both man and boy. So please, be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium."

I loved this thought--what else does a fan covet as he/she grows up and matures. Those poor Cubs fans--I can finally understand their collective psyche.

One of the pleasures of reading is finding connections to my own life in those of characters, real or imaginary, and learning more about this world by exploring other worlds. Fever Pitch was a pleasurable book--at times I felt as if I was reading a Ray Bradbury novel or perhaps a Margaret Mead "Coming of Age..." type of book--but the natives, though often scary, were fascinating.

The movie version, with Colin Firth, arrived from NetFlix yesterday. Should I watch American Idol with the kids tonight, or Fever Pitch?


  1. 1."...I am not saying that the anally retentive woman does not exist, but she is vastly outnumbered by her masculine equivalent; and while there are women with obsessions, they are usually, I think, obsessive about people, or the focus for their obsessions changes frequently."


    2. Living surrounded by three Italian male genre (husband and two teenage sons) I perfectly understand that fever! You know, Jane, Italians are crazy for soccer! They live for their favourite club's matches at the weekend and if they are as good as to compete in the European Football Cups even in the middle of the week.

    3. My sons practice soccer, both, and they take it as a very serious matter ... nothing matters more than their weekend matches or twice-a-week training.

    4.Lunch time? They have to watch the sports news!Dinner time? They have to watch the sports news again!

    5. Two of them ( husband and elder son) support one of the 2 Milan soccer clubs, INTER. My younger son , bravely enough, supports the other one, MILAN FOOTBALL CLUB. And they are always arguing in front of the telly. But why Milan soccer teams...don't we live near Rome?!?

    6. They love English soccer. Younger son supports Arsenal, for example. My husband Manchester United. This means ... an extra soccer fix on Saturday afternoon (let's say lunchtime!) thanks to the satellite pay TV.

    So, Jane, tell me, should I read Pitch Fever to understand the craziness in my family and all around me? Most Italian men are like that!
    Sorry for such a looong comment!

  2. I don't know if I want to read this book, it just doesn't match my reading style. But thanks for a great review!

  3. I am also not a sports fan, but I got a good sense of what Hornby is speaking of when the Phillies won the world series two years ago. I grew up in Philadelphia am very familiar with the city's famously belligerent fans. I never cared for baseball but inevitably end up at a game every once in a while - either someone gives us tickets or for a work function. Last summer we attended a game, the best one I've ever seen. I couldn't tell you the score or the names of the players, but the fans were so charged up and exited that the entire stadium was abuzz with excitement, making it very hard not to be swept away. It gave me a sense a first hand sense of the intense emotion fans put into these games and made me feel less dismissive of them. This book sounds like a useful one for those of us trying to fathom the sports fan's obsession.

    I must say I know far more anally retentive women than men, including a few clinically diagnosed Obsessive Compulsives. Does this make my world an anomaly?

  4. Is that Colin Firth? Wow. He looks good!

  5. You're daughter might appreciate the American movie version of this book which starts Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. In it, Jimmy Fallon's characters is obsessed with the Boston Red Sox. Interestingly, they were filming the movie the year the Sox won the first of their recent World Series Championships. So they altered the movie to reflect that. They also happened, while filming to catch footage that showed a particular man sitting at a game. Shortly after the man was taken into questioning for a crime but was able to prove his innocence because he recalled that he had been in movie scenes shot at the same time the crime was committed.

  6. I live with a football fanatic, my son is a football fanatic and I have this book - not read it though. Both are Manchester United fans, so to read a book about Arsenal would be regarded with suspicion!

    I have actually been to a football match as well. It's better live than on TV!

    I like it when football is on TV - I don't watch it, but spend the time reading, which is much better.

  7. Maria - thanks for filling me in on your life with football fans. I'd heard that "Italians are crazy for soccer," and I would definitely recommend that you read Fever Pitch...and your sons read P&P!

    Alexa - I was rooting for the Phillies even though since our Rockies didn't go all the way. "...the fans were so charged up and exited that the entire stadium was abuzz with excitement, making it very hard not to be swept away." I actually really enjoy going to games like this--our best game was the last game of 2007, when the Rockies won and AZ lost, which meant we played SD for the playoff position. We stood the entire game and clapped and cheered the whole was so much fun!

    Lisa - I found out about that movie when I was learning about the Fever Pitch (soccer) movie. I think I'll get it--you're right, I think my daughter would like it.

    Margaret - yes, you will have some 'splaining to do if you read a book about Arsenal football. I think only American football is better on TV than live--at least that's this non-fan's opinion. With regards to gaining reading time during televised football matches, I often go fishing with my husband...he fishes, I read :)

  8. I'm impressed that you read Fever Pitch, Jane! I haven't managed to read it yet, despite living with an Arsenal fan for many years. Not sure I would even think of attempting to read a book on baseball or American Football - that really is an alien cultural experience, for me :)

    I've read a few of Nick Hornby's other books, but I just couldn't get past the first few pages of this one when I tried several years ago.

  9. Tracy - living for years with an Arsenal fan would make Fever Pitch required reading--sort of like a guidebook to the fan's obsession :)

    If you ever do get the urge to read a book on baseball, I can recommend Doris Kearns Goodwin's memoir, Wait Until Next Year.

    Looking forward to reading more of Hornby later this year.