Friday, February 02, 2007

Football-Head Reads: Fever Pitch Nick Hornby

Book Review: Fever Pitch Nick Hornby.

The edition I have reviewed is from the Brisbane City Council library. This edition was published by Penguin Books in 2000. Originally Fever Pitch was published by Victor Gollancz in 1992. I have yet to find a copy I can buy locally. So Amazon for new or Alibris for second hand may be the go.

When I think of Nick Hornby I think of the movie About A Boy. I just didn’t realise how much he had to tell me.

Fever Pitch is Hornby’s autobiography in the form of a diary. Each entry is the date of a football match and Hornby describes what happened to him at that match, what was going on in his life and the inter-relationship of the match and his life.

Right at the start I was hooked. This happens to me:

‘’What are you thinking about?’ She asks. At this point I lie. I wasn’t thinking about Martin Amis or Gerard Depardieu or the Labour Party at all. But then, obsessives have no choice; they have to lie on occasions like this. If we told the truth every time, then we would be unable to maintain relationships with anyone from the real world. We would be left to rot with our Arsenal (think your a-League team here) programmes or our collection of original blue-label Stax records or our King Charles spaniels… ‘ pages 1 and 2.

Hornby points out that football is usually about disappointment. About shouting, anticipation and let down. But occasionally this is made worthwhile by fantastic goals and winning. How different to following the Australian cricket team eh, which has now resorted to talking England up because the walk over has been so complete people are now saying why bother. Mind you the English Premier League now has the annual lopsidedness of Manchester United and Chelsea to reduce the expectation of fans. In the A-League, despite Melbourne Victory’s initial run, it could be anyone’s title and therefore is more interesting to all fans. Hornby reminds us that draws mean that winning and perhaps scoring in more than half your games can be an achievement. And yet fans, despite 12th player cliches, are pretty powerless to help their team. So Hornby resorts to internal psychological tactics:

‘if we win the league, I won’t mind the rejection slip. The rejection slip duly came, and hurt like hell for months; but the Championship came too… I know that the bargain I made was the right one… Yet the terrible truth is that I was willing to accept a Conservative government if it guaranteed an Arsenal Cup Final win; I could hardly have been expected to anticipate that Mrs Thatcher would go on to become the longest serving Prime Minister this century… I wouldn’t have settled for anything less than another Double.’ Pages 104 and 105

Hornby also comments on my current interest. Football entertainment. The entertainment spectacle or results based entertainment. In many sports, growing sophistication of strategy and tactics, basketball, rugby, Australian rules, leads to teams winning through defense and dominance of possession. In rugby league, perhaps Australia’s greatest coach of any football code, Warren Ryan and his Wests team, became so proficient at a results based game that they lobbied the code's international body to change its rules so that rugby league remained interesting and therefore kept its fans. If only football could be that flexible. It was in its early history, for example introducing and changing offside rules, but more recent changes seem to have been more about politics. Anyway. Hornby raises this:

‘… the away team are struggling, unambitious also-rans; their manager. . wants a draw… Nobody, not even someone like me, would have been able to remember the game had it not been for the post-match press conference, when Alan Durban became angered by the hostility of the journalists towards his team and his tactics. ‘If you want entertainment,’ he snarled, ‘go and watch clowns.’ It became one of the most famous football quotes of the decade. The quality papers in particular loved it for its effortless summary of modern football culture: here was conclusive proof that the game had gone to the dogs, that nobody cared about anything other than results any more… I have come to believe that Alan Durban was right. It was not his job to provide entertainment. It was his job to look after the interests of the Stoke City fans, which means avoiding defeat away from home… ’ pages 124, 125 and 126.

This quote is set in 1980, right at the heart of Sydney FC coach Terry Butcher’s English football career. When he learned his trade.

Hornby speaks directly on our youths:

‘… it suddenly occurred to me over the next few weeks… that my heroes were not going to age as I did. I will reach thirty-five, forty, fifty, but the players never will… I am more than a decade older than the people I love in the current Arsenal team… they have done things that I never will, and sometimes I feel that if I could just score into the North Bank end and run behind the goal to the fans, than I could at least leave behind all childish things.’ Page 140

And the concern for every parent:

‘There must be many fathers around the country who have experienced the cruellest, most crushing rejection of all: their children ended up supporting the wrong team. When I contemplate parenthood, something I do more and more… I am aware that I am genuinely fearful of this kind of treachery.’ Page 122

Nick Horby has also put together My Favourite Year: A Collection of New Football Writing (Paperback - 31 Aug 2001)


Hamish said...

I'll read it. Have no doubt it'll strike a chord with me too.

Hamish said...

Found a copy today in the book shop. I'll make further comment presently.