Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch

I was lucky to be born.

That is, my parents wanted a couple of kids, and they had a couple of daughters. But my dad grew up kicking a ball about in North London, and when he grew up he wanted a little lad to kick a ball about with and take to Arsenal matches. Hey, if he was a young man today, I’m sure he’d have taken the girls, but this was a few years ago, a different generation. And as I said above, lucky for me.

Twenty years after it came out, I finally got round to reading Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, a memoir of a long suffering Arsenal fan, and a fascinating read. If the book had been written today, it wouldn’t be so interesting, as Arsenal are one of the biggest, most entertaining clubs in the world with some of the biggest names playing for them.

In Hornby’s day (and for most of their history), Arsenal didn’t win much, and in fact, they were famous for being boring and hated by everyone else. There are great moments in the book that really put you in awe at trying to understand the mind of an old-school Arsenal supporter. For example, Nick’s dad took him to his first game (and like my dad, he left his daughter at home); Arsenal one 1-0, after the ball rebounded off a player and trickled into the net. The following week, Nick was taken to see a legendary Spurs side win five-nil, but Arsenal had won his heart, and he went to every Arsenal game he could (mostly on his own, in bitterly cold weather) for the rest of his life, to grumble with the other supporters about their team, who seem to have a better knack than any other team for throwing away an advantage.

His parents divorced, Highbury (Arsenal’s old stadium) became Nick’s home, dependable, predicable, familiar; he was part of something. Nick couldn’t become that kind of supporter today, he only had to pay 15p to join the crowd in the 1970s.

The climax of Fever Pitch is the legendary 1989 season when Arsenal won their first Championship in 18 years, they managed to do it by scoring a goal in the last minute of the season. Lucky for me, that happened to be the year my dad started taking me to matches. I did a nostalgic blogpost on it here. Below is the amusing moment in the film version with Colin Firth and Mark Strong.

One last Hornby-ism (paraphrased from memory): ‘Women aren’t obsessive. They generally don’t go on their own to mid-week league cup games on a rainy night. And they don’t alphabetise their records.’

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