Maybe because it’s currently March Madness, or maybe because I’m a senior reminiscing on my time here at Duke, but I can’t help but reflect on my own fandom when reading Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. I can’t quite relate to what Hornby is writing, as I never grew up watching soccer or experiencing soccer culture. Those I went to high school with spent their time talking about Cleveland sports: my classmates were in awe when discussing the heroics of LeBron James in basketball, or utterly depressed at the mention of the Cleveland Browns. Before college, I never considered myself a die-hard fan. I watched the games at times, and I tried my best to keep up in conversation, but I mostly just listened as others gushed about the latest and greatest developments in the world of Cleveland sports.
Reading about Nick Hornby’s passion and love for Arsenal reminds me very much of how I grew to love Duke Basketball. There is almost something sinful about loving this team; after all, they are among the most hated sports programs in the nation. Prior to coming here, all I ever heard of Duke was disdain towards Christian Laettner, or people discussing how they loved to hate JJ Reddick. These names were new to me, as I had never watched college ball and had no allegiances to any program. However, arriving at Duke and first stepping into Cameron Indoor was infectious. The student section as a whole was such a powerful thing to behold. Every person in attendance chanted in unison, hurling insults at the opponent and cheering gleefully for our team. There was a learning curve, and memorizing the chants was a longer process than what I had expected. But by the end of it, I felt part of a unified whole, and from this point on I could not separate myself from the Blue Devils.
Reading Hornby’s account of his own fandom is an interesting experience because it forces me to be very objective about my own experiences. Hornby’s discussion of the isolation he feels in the stadium and the ritualistic nature of fandom is odd to think about. The way he describes soccer is not as a form of entertainment, but rather as a great burden that he carries, one that only causes anxiety. And while I’d like to think that my time in Cameron has been mostly entertaining, that’s not the case. The sport is never really about having fun, it’s first and foremost about winning. I recall times when UNC beat us in what was otherwise a thrilling and entertaining match for unbiased spectators. And yet when I think about these games, I don’t immediately recall the thrill or the excitement of the game. Rather, I can only really think about how disappointing it was to lose and how it stung for days following.
Maybe I’m just reflective because we’re in the final stretch. UCF almost ended the year in what many would describe as an objectively good game. Yet these many don’t seem to get it. For us students, this was not a “good game”; it was our primary source of anxiety for the days leading up to it and the days following. March Madness feels less like a fun spectacle and more like a near death experience. This team has at least one more game in them, and at best four more. It’s upsetting to know the end is near; I have so enjoyed being a part of this team these past four years. Yet for how much I enjoy thinking about this program, I know I will likely be an anxious mess tomorrow when we take on Virginia Tech. Win or lose, my nerves won’t subside until it’s over. And I guess that’s what fandom is all about.