Despite the title, the cover art and the general subject matter, ‘Fever Pitch’ by Nick Hornby isn’t really about football itself. It is more about the consumption of football, the obsession of a fan – in this case, an Arsenal supporter – cleverly interwoven with a more general autobiography of Hornby’s life. Consequently, ‘Fever Pitch’ can be read and enjoyed by people like myself who are not necessarily football or sports fans and might lead you a little bit closer to what people actually see in football and why they choose to devote a huge part of their lives to following it.
The structure of ‘Fever Pitch’ is a little unconventional but very effective, written in the form of easily digestible short essays or match reports, each based on a single game, describing what specifically happened at the time (he has an encyclopaedic memory for match statistics) and also what was going on more generally in his life. He writes about the first matches he went to see with his father in the midst of his parents’ divorce in the mid-1960s through to 1992 when the Premier League began. More poignant topics such as the impact of the Hillsborough disaster are also covered in between the more light-hearted moments of which there are many.
‘Fever Pitch’ is a fairly light, entertaining read and Hornby’s writing here is as accessible and warm as it is in his fiction work. He also writes very perceptively about football culture in the UK although it is important to bear in mind that ‘Fever Pitch’ was originally published in 1992 and the culture that Hornby describes in this book is a world away from what it is now. In terms of safety guidelines, hooliganism and policing, there have been many improvements in the last twenty years or so, but the multimillion pound contracts and shameless commercialism are among the less attractive features. Today, ‘Fever Pitch’ serves as a nostalgic reminder of how it used to be not so long ago as well as laying bare the all-consuming obsession of a football fan.