Saturday, February 18, 2006

Book Review: Fever Pitch

This is a book for the sports fan who has ever supported his or her team through thick and thin, fair weather and foul, winning seasons and losing seasons and has paid for the privilege.

Nick Hornby (who also wrote About A Boy) writes of his ongoing passion for the English football (i.e., soccer) team, the Arsenals. He admits that his passion is not rational, that if asked to choose between an important event for friends and family--like a wedding or a christening--and going to a home game, he'll pick the game. (Pitch, in this case, refers to the field.)

Football began as something to do with his father, after his parents had separated. The matches gave them a place to go, a ritual to perform, something to talk about, as well as a reason to be silent. (I was reminded of Daniel Stern's speech in City Slickers about he and his dad could always talk about baseball.) Football then took over his life and, for awhile, it seemed that events in his life were inextricably tied to the fortunes of the Arsenals.

But it's more than that. Mr. Hornby also explores the sociology of football fans: why they behave the way they do, how becoming a fan is often as unpredictable as falling in love, what happens as the fan ages and the team doesn't. He deals with some of the tragedies that have happened at British football games, including the Liverpool-Forest semi-final at Hillsborough in 1989 where 95 fans were crushed to death.

In the end, Mr. Hornby has accepted his addiction. He apologizes for taking his half-brother to the game and infecting him with the love of the Arsenals as well--who are, apparently, the team everyone loves to hate. One of my favorite lines comes in the Introduction:

"The truth is this: for alarmingly large chunks of an average day, I am a moron."

As one who has sat through more than my share of buying season tickets to watch the University of California football team lose (and you know you're desperate when the best you can come up with is "We still have more Nobel Laureates than Stanford!"), I found myself laughing out loud and sharing bits with my family. (Hubs has sat with me for all of those seasons.) When my youngest brother and his fiancee decided to get married--in October--the first thing they did is check the Cal football schedule to make sure Cal was playing away. My mother would have given up her ticket to the game; it would have been a tough decision for the rest of us.

Fever Pitch has been made into a movie--twice. The first version is the 1997 British version, starring Colin Firth. (There's that man again. I admit, I got the book out of the library because they didn't have this version of the movie.) The second version is the Drew Barrymore-Jimmy Fallon version which uses the Boston Red Sox and baseball as the addiction, rather than soccer.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 if you have ever paid for the privilege of sitting through a meaningless game that was not one where a relative (like your child) was playing, in the rain. (Bonus points if the meaningless game in the rain--or snow or even 100+ degree heat--was televised and you had the option of watching said game in the comfort of your own home.)

If you're related to someone who fits the above description, this book may help you understand where their head is, especially during the season. You may recognize your loved one in some of the descriptions. Whether you find it as funny as I did depends on how you view your loved one's obsession and/or addiction.