No sooner is it Saturday and there goes the nutter, rambling about his obsession for football yet again. It isn’t hard to imagine such observations from people around me, especially the ones who’ve grown to know me all too well. And as football hibernates for three agonizing months after today’s FA Cup decider between Everton and Chelsea (which Chelsea won 2–1), and as symptoms of football withdrawal kick in, I couldn’t help but write something about an obsessed football fan’s account I finished reading today.
I laugh at the thought of labelling myself an obsessive. If I’m a Manchester United fanatic by merely restricting my view to a measly television box or an Internet location streaming live games from halfway across the world, and concerning my sense of gratification with a team’s exploits that I have never witnessed in person, then Nick Hornby is nothing short of an all-knowing guru (and by that same analogy, most of Britain a land riddled with soccer-snuffing, foul-mouthed addicts). He’s someone who has seen it all—home, away, and at neutral territory (a feat I can only dream of)—as an ardent supporter of Arsenal his entire life and lived to recount his tale firsthand in the gripping football memoir, Fever Pitch.
The book is a fascinating extract of Hornby’s fixation with football and all-things Arsenal. Right from the moment he went to attend his very first game at Highbury (the original hallowed turf, today’s Emirates Stadium is just an imitation) to the dull nil–nil draw against Aston Villa in the post-Championship winning season of ’90-91, a performance that epitomized the under-achieving, boring Arsenal he grew up to love, Fever Pitch has all that and more. The abundance of heartbreak that comes with the territory of a sports fanatic, those rare moments of sporting triumph catalyzing tumultuous fan euphoria (and erasing memories of all past shoddiness), and most importantly the inner turmoil of a fan coming to grips with his obsession—Hornby captures the quintessential football fanatic and relives his life not in years but in seasons. And with a good bit of humour, too.
Seventeen years after it was first published, it will be fair to say that Arsenal’s fortunes have changed since Hornby penned down his essays that comprise Fever Pitch. But a recent five-year streak in the Premier League’s wilderness, with no silverware to boast of, Arsenal might have re-entered the barren mould Hornby grew up watching. The book is still a hit, though, and a must read for anyone loosely interested in football and the emotions it evokes.
Originally published: May 30, 2009