Fever Pitch

By | March 30, 2020

Nick Hornby’s novel Fever Pitch is a memoir about being an Arsenal fan, a particular kind of malady within the broader world of football obsession. Students in the English language section of Soccer Politics are reading it this week. To accompany your reading, you might enjoy the 1997 film version of the book starring Colin Firth.

There is also a U.S. version, starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, which I’m afraid I can’t vouch for (having not seen it!) though would be curious to hear if anyone has and what they think.

In the comments below, I invite you to share some of your favorite passages and moments in the book. Do any of Hornby’s reflections capture experiences you have had as a fan? If so, feel free to share those stories.

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About Laurent Dubois

I am Professor of Romance Studies and History and the Director of the Forum for Scholars & Publics at Duke University. I founded the Soccer Politics blog in 2009 as part of a course on "World Cup and World Politics" taught at Duke University. I'm currently teaching the course under the title "Soccer Politics" here at Duke. My books include Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France (University of California Press, 2010) and The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer (Basic Books, 2018)

21 thoughts on “Fever Pitch

  1. Will von Guionneau

    I admittedly only finished the book this morning, but am genuinely glad that I managed to. Fever Pitch is one of the few books I have read thus far which I have had so many points resonate with me. Being British as well as an Arsenal fan definetely helped on this front, but there is a lot more to the book that resonated with me that I had not actually thought about until Hornby actually brought it up. One such example is his description of the bond that arose between himself and his father that was afforded by their shared passion for the sport. While I have never shared a passion for football with my father (because he has no interest in it), I realised after reading this chapter that a significant portion of my friendships back home in the UK were established through the medium of football discussions and a shared passion for the game. I would have had a very different experience growing up in central London had I not been an avid fan of a North London team and shared debates, conversations and the ups / downs of fandom with my friends.

    On a different note, looking back on the book, I think it would be difficult for any football fan (and even another type of sports fan in many cases) not to have resonated with Hornby’s writing. I think the book demonstrates an aspect of human nature that is unavoidable in that it reveals something about all of us. An appreciation for the lack of control over what happens to the institutions we decide to support from a young age for the rest of our lives. Hornby demonstrates that humans enjoy the turbulence of fandom because of the unwavering sense of belonging we have to these organisations we choose to dedicate a significant portion of our lives to- not to mention the pure elation we receive at the top of the emotional roller coaster that any football fan will dream of.

    Hornby’s description of the way he felt after the 87′ semi-final win over Tottenham made me think of the way I feel after the club beat tottenham 4-2 last December. I always stream games on my computer and find a quiet place to watch them. The effect a win like that, or a win over Chelsea has on my mood and general happiness for an entire weekend is immense- and this is something I only fully appreciated the effect of until I read Hornby’s descriptions of the trials and tribulations he faced as a fan.

  2. Christopher Suh

    As I read, I think I was most struck by an aspect of fandom that I find to be precious and beautiful, but don’t often think about. It’s that irrational hope for a miracle, or maybe not even that, just something to hold on to. Although Liverpool is doing quite well at the moment, when I first began following them in the early 2010s, the Arsenal experience was not something completely foreign to me. And yet, despite years of mid-table performances and results, there was always some little corner of myself that held on to the hope that LFC would one day bring me a happiness that I had never even experienced following them before. Logically, given my past experiences, there was no reason that I should have expected, or even known what it would have felt like, for LFC to supply happiness to me. But as I look back, I wonder whether this is one of the things that makes soccer, and sports in general, mean so much to so many. A fan gets the opportunity to brazenly cling on to some irrational vision of beauty in the face of the whole world saying otherwise. We get to see something that no one else does; as I saw a Brazilian maestro in the 8 million version of Coutinho, a redemption story in Balotelli, a game changer in the “overvalued” Mane. Perhaps others saw with more rational, more realistic eyes, but my refusal to do so gave me something altogether more beautiful to root for.

  3. Tess Boade

    I’ve never understood super fans. As I myself am strictly and admittedly a serial bandwagon fan, I cannot understand why someone would be so committed to a team that they would continue to watch them play horrible soccer rather than flipping the channeling and watching a quality game. In the first chapter, “Home Début,” Hornby describes his first time at an Arsenal match. Having had the opportunity to attend a few EPL and La Liga matches myself, I have felt a similar emotion to the one Hornby reflects on. In my experience, it was fascinating to observe the fans almost as fascinating as it was to watch the magic of the match. Over the course of the book, as a reader we learn just how obsessed Hornby is with Arsenal which I cannot relate with. His initial reactions and observations from his first Arsenal game are some of the exact reasons that I make the decision to be a band wagon fan and yet these same reasons are what led him to be such a devout fan of Arsenal. Hornby writes, “What impressed me most was just how much most of the men around me hated, really hated, being there” (12). He later explains, “entertainment as pain was an idea entirely new to me” (13). Soccer games have a distinct energy to them unlike any other sporting event I’ve been to. The walls echo with complaining, cussing, and overall just disgust. To Hornby this was what he had been searching for, but for me this takes away from the beauty of the game itself. Having been an athlete my whole life you would think I would have a soft place in my heart for teams that are in a drought or struggling because well I’ve been there, but there is nothing I hate more than rooting for the team that loses. So, I choose to root for the team that is probably going to win because there is nothing, I hate more than losing. That distasteful feeling that you get for the rest of the day after a heart-breaking loss has been so influential on me, that I now consciously hold myself back from getting too attached to a team. Hornby’s obsession makes sense to me to some level but not entirely. While I understand that Hornby has a new level of fever pitch, I think that just because I don’t have one team, I root for I still have this fever pitch, but for me it is an unconscious draw to good soccer, rather than a specific team. Later on, Hornby talks about how boring Arsenal had become but he felt “chained” and couldn’t leave the fan base. This is exactly what I mean. Imagine weekend after weekend going to Arsenal games just to watch a lousy game of soccer. In Hornby’s chapter “A Matter of Life and Death,” I began to have my eyes open and I realized an aspect of fanaticism that is unique and in fact rewarding. He writes, “I have learned the value of investing time and emotion in things I cannot control, and of belonging to a community” (62). I think the latter part of this sentence is very important and also accurate. It is for this reason that I understand fan bases because it is human nature to have a desire to be a part of something bigger than yourself and sports do offer this when you have one team you support. The beginning of this statement is very interesting because perhaps this is the very reason that I can’t get too invested in a team, or even a game. Having no control over the outcome is stressful for A-type people. All in all, this book showed me the reasons that I wasn’t even aware of in why I choose to not support just one team but rather support the sport as a whole. On the contrary, it did open my eyes to things I am missing out on by not investing in on team through their ups and downs. But I’m not sure it opened my eyes enough to make this fundamental change in my life.

  4. Nathan Luzum

    For me, the most striking aspect of Fever Pitch is the camaraderie and cohesion that sports are able to foster among fans. Hornby’s earliest memories of his soccer coming-of-age are largely centered not on the field action, but rather the fans he’s surrounded by. In our earlier reading this semester, Bromberger referred to the crowd as a “spectacle” in and of itself; this notion certainly rang true for a young Hornby. Additionally, he later mentions how he used a fanatic devotion to soccer to connect with others, both when transferring schools and also in his adult life. These observations underscore a certain universality around sports, one that can unite people.

    During a sporting event, the crowd operates in a special milieu. Social interactions between fans are not only condoned, but also oftentimes expected and encouraged. The spectators share a common bond at a number of levels; obviously, they are all watching the same game at the same time, but most are also likely fans of the home team or the sport in general. Whether it’s striking up conversation with your seat neighbor or making snide remarks as the game stretches on, the shared experience can break down barriers and open up the opportunity to empathize with a total stranger for a few hours before parting ways.

    Even away from the field, sports can serve as a powerful common interest that can break the ice in social interactions, and in some cases, form lasting friendships. As someone interested in pursuing medicine, I’ve volunteered in Duke Hospital and shadowed doctors. A tactic I’ve often found successful, and also observed with the physicians I’ve accompanied, is trying to connect with patients over a sporting event they’re watching on television or team gear they happen to be wearing. This can help with the power imbalance that can exist in the doctor-patient relationship, rendering the interaction as one between two sports fans, instead of between a physician and someone in need. Sports can act as a great equalizer among individuals from vastly different backgrounds.

    Overall, the sports-facilitated camaraderie and connection Hornby presents in Fever Pitch is one that rings true in many aspects of society, one that helps to bring people together.

  5. Camden Vassallo

    Reading Fever Pitch was an exercise of empathy for me. I personally connected with Nick Hornby’s story on many but not all levels. For the majority of his career, my father worked at ESPN, so I was essentially born a sports fan. And a very serious sports fan to boot. I very much understood the sentiment Hornby was trying to convey when he wrote, “I have always been accused of taking the things I love – football, of course, but also books and records – much too seriously, and I do feel a kind of anger when I hear a bad record, or when someone is lukewarm about a book that means a lot to me” (Home Début). I too have very visceral feelings toward the outcomes of my teams’ contests (not so much about music albums though). Close games and matches get me STRESSED because I am very passionate and invested in my teams. A bad loss can ruin my mood for the evening. While some may think this is ridiculous, the word “fan” is, in fact, short for “fanatic” – meaning “filled with or expressing excessive zeal.” I agree that both Hornby and my own sports habits are excessive at times, but there is certainly some good in “learn[ing] the value of investing time and emotion in things I cannot control, and of belonging to a community whose aspirations I share completely and uncritically” (A Matter Of Life And Death). This next point will probably come off as braggadocious, I am a lifelong Boston sports fan. In the time that I have been alive, Boston’s professional sports teams have won 12 championships and have been league finalists 11 times. If you include Duke Basketball and Manchester City as well, I have witnessed a lot of success over the years. Therefore, I believe it would be unfair for me to comment on the thoughts and feelings of Hornby as he watches the trials and tribulations of Arsenal over the years. I could not begin to imagine the underlying emotions when he writes, “Life isn’t, and has never been, a 2-0 home victory after a fish and chip lunch” (Happy). Finally, being a Boston Red Sox fan means that I have seen the U.S. version of Fever Pitch, starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore (although this is a stretch because the acting is pretty bad). This movie tells a romance story between a woman and a die-hard Red Sox fan. The crux of the movie centers around Hornby’s opening line “I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it” (Home Début). Jimmy Fallon grapples with his two loves: the Sox and Drew Barrymore. It’s a charming story and I’d be happy to talk more about it in class.

  6. Jake Mann

    Though I’ve grown up very adjacent to football between the handful of leagues that I’ve played in, reading Fever Pitch made me aware of a side of the game that is still unfortunately so very separate from what I am familiar with. Reading Hornby’s conflations of Arsenal results and major life events was something that at first, I interpreted as a bit of heavyhanded motif creation, not at times unlike what other authors have done in previous books (such as the comparison in “Brilliant Orange” between the Dutch style of play and the immaculate planning of space-conserving cities- while a very interesting and articulate comparison, I felt as if it was more correlation than causation). However, by the point in which he firmly asserts that an Arsenal win in the Littlewood cup final helped cure his depression, I was convinced that the man truly had a life bond to his team, the likes of which I had only seen once before.
    The coach to my travel team a few years back, and it occurs to me just now that I don’t actually know his last name because he was only Coach Peter, might come close to rivaling Hornby in passion for his team. I practiced with him for two years and knew him for many more, and only once did I not see him wearing his trademark shin-length red socks with the golden liver bird peeking out of the top. That one exception was a wedding reception, and he told me that his wife had to physically stop him from wearing them. The first time I practiced with him, just as I was beginning to closely follow the Premier League and had chosen Chelsea as my team, I brought my blue ball with the logo proudly emblazoned. 30 seconds into the first practice, he stopped everyone with a grave shout and DEMANDED to know ‘who hahd the nehrve to bring this pitiful bol’ (trying for the accent, I’ll never be able to do it justice). When I admitted to it, all he could say was ‘pitiful.’ Needless to say, he was my favorite coach ever. When I scored a devastating own goal, he sent me home with homework to watch youtube highlights of Jamie Carragher, the famed defender who has the record for Premier League own goals. I’ve never fact-checked this, but I’ll never have to. Peter just knew that, just as Nick knew practically every player who has ever graced the Gunner roster. The passion with which he coached our team (and supported his own) was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and just as Hornby’s many acquaintances associated him with the name Arsenal, I’ll never see Liverpool without thinking of the man who has ‘you’ll never walk alone’ tattooed down the length of his arm.

  7. Pelham Van Cooten

    Hornby’s beginnings in football are similar to mine. I was never a fan when I was younger, and my dad was, specifically of Arsenal in the EPL. He introduced me to the game, but this was not to make up for a divorce. And like Hornby, it was actually common for me to attach my feelings to wins and losses when I did become invested in the game on my own, but I don’t think it dictated my life in anyway.

    I started playing soccer competitively (and also watching seriously) around the end of 7th grade. Being an Arsenal fan is too tough, and I found myself cheering for Liverpool. Little did I know that being a Liverpool follower was a trip on its own. That second place finish in 2013-2014 was one of the most heartbreaking, but that was an exciting season, and a great year in my life. Then came last year. And now I can’t even enjoy their league victory because it isn’t fully official.

    I feel like my emotions and feelings are more invested in international football. My family has Dutch backgrounds, and Robben was the first player I idolized growing up. Very pacy and left footed (two of the attributes I always wanted in my game). The second place finish in the 2010 World Cup led me to think that they would only finish better in the 2014 World Cup, and when they couldn’t get past Argentina, I could barely muster up the energy to watch the final. It took my parents constant efforts to cheer me up to even celebrate my sister’s birthday a couple days after the defeat.

  8. Connor Ghazaleh

    Reading Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, I found there was a lot I could relate to in the way he developed such an attachment to his team and experienced emotional ups and downs corresponding with fluctuations in their performance. While Nick Hornby grew up with soccer, I grew up with baseball, and the Boston Red Sox have been my team since I was very young. Anyone familiar with Boston sports or who knows their baseball will probably have heard of the “Curse of the Bambino”. It started when the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth’s contract to the Yankees in 1920 (although baseball lore would have the curse date back to 1918), and was propagated by the fact that the Red Sox went on a tremendous championship drought for nearly a century following that transaction. I inherited this when I was born into a Boston family and it was something that we were reminded of every year until 2004. During the 2004 World Series the Red Sox broke “the curse” and won their first championship since 1918. At the time I was only 7, but I still remember the grandeur of what followed. The reactions from my family and friends who had all huddled around a TV in one of our houses could be classified as nothing other than hysterical, and the parade that took place downtown a few years later put even that to shame. As a 7 year old I couldn’t begin to understand the years of struggle that the residents of Boston had to endure as the Red Sox toiled year after year, especially considering the Red Sox had made it to 4 World Series since 1918 and lost in game 7 of each one. To say they “endured” through not having their favorite team win may seem dramatic and exaggerated, but Boston loves its baseball. It loves its baseball to the point where the results of the team can noticeably impact the morale of the whole city in the same way that the results of Arsenal impact Nick Hornby and others alike to the point where they feel they are “anaesthetized with a benign idiocy-inducing drug” (Hornby p.107). I’ve inherited this feverish love for my city’s baseball team and it’s only grown as I’ve gotten older. With my team’s ups and downs came my own emotional ups and downs and I loved it. I loved having a team that I could support and be a part of my identity. Of course it also helps that we’ve won 4 World Series titles in my lifetime, but the point is that having this team to support makes me feel like I’m more than just me. It adds another puzzle piece to my identity and is something that I can be proud of, win or lose. As I’ve gotten older this sentiment has extended other Boston sports teams and now some Duke teams as well. A soccer team has yet to make the list of teams that I’m constantly checking ESPN for, but who knows, maybe that’ll be next.

  9. Max Labaton

    While I didn’t grow up a huge soccer fan, as a sports fan, I feel like I understand Hornsby. I related even more given the recent events and the impact on professional sports. As a predominantly basketball, American football, and baseball fan I always found that there was a game to look forward to and the absence of any sports leaves an empty void. I’ve lost friends over sports–most notably my decision to root for the New York Giants while growing up in D.C. When Hornsby writes about being “submerged under a mob of screaming, jeering, giggling boys” after an Arsenal loss, I remembered how from middle school through early high school, I would never hear the end of it after a Giants loss.

    Throughout the book, I also found myself relating to how following sports teams has impacted my relationships. Similar to Hornsby, sports helped me bond with my dad (who passed down his love of the Giants and New York Yankees to me). As a kid, I found that we spent the most time together at sporting events. Obsessive fandom doesn’t always seem rational; I remember skipping school to go to Opening Day or watching Sunday Night Football rather than studying for my exam the next day. But sports affords a kind of comfort that’s not always true of other pursuits. There’s always a next game. I now realize how much I took that for granted. It’s no coincidence that Hornsby structures the book around various matches. For the true fan, games provide a sense of structure in a schedule. There is always another opportunity to see your team emerge victorious or to have your heart broken.

  10. Emma Parker

    Every summer from age 7 to 12, I attended FC Sarum, a two-week long soccer camp. During our lunch hour, the coaches would play highlights from professional matches on a big screen indoors. Campers would gather around and shout with excitement or disappointment for their favored team, even though they had seen these matches played before. When the coaches streamed live games, a tense silence would fill the room and erupt when a play was made. Noise about these matches extended far beyond lunch time. My peers would debate the best player in the Premier League and World Cup predictions for what seemed like hours. As a young girl who had grown up watching college basketball with my dad, I did not have much exposure to the world of soccer beyond this camp. I was intrigued by the fandom that my peers, the game announcers, and the coaches exhibited. I wanted to share their excitement and participate in their conversations, so I would attentively watch the matches with my friends. Despite my efforts, I was never that invested or entertained. I witnessed fandom rather than experienced it.

    Reading Fever Pitch reminded me of these summer camp days. The other campers were fans like Hornby; they would get angry if anyone disturbed their attentive watching, obsessively discuss their thoughts on strategy, and remain unwaveringly loyal to their chosen team. As I have grown up and selected the few teams I support across each sport, I have experienced some degree of sports fandom. Yet, I have never taken the time to understand it. Hornby explains that a true fan does not watch their team play so that they can be entertained. Rather, they watch their team as part of ritual or to ease their anxiety over the final score. This, I realize, was my mistake as a young soccer camper. I tried so hard to become enthralled in each match, but I could not because I did not care who won or lost. Being a fan means that you love, and sometimes hate, a team for their execution of the sport. Sometimes, a winning, yet slow-paced or boring game may be the most desirable match to watch. Hornby made me realize that fandom gives you purpose as a viewer, for it connects you to each player as they navigate the field and takes you on an emotional rollercoaster even when nothing that remarkable happens. Fandom means supporting a team and their endeavors, and through transmission, fandom means loving the sport.

  11. Eric Werbel

    I, as an Arsenal fan, strongly identified with a lot of the emotions Hornby talks about in Fever Pitch. My most recent experience with this (as I mentioned in a previous blog post) would be the loss to Olympiakos in the Round of 16 in the Europa League. When Hornby speaks of Arsenal’s unexpected loss to Sindon in the 1969 Football League Cup Final, I couldn’t help but draw some parallels to the loss to Olympiakos. While, from Hornby’s description, the loss to Olympiakos does not seem like it was as big of an upset, to a fan, losses when your team is expected to win always hurt. I think being in the U.S. makes dealing with Arsenal’s inconsistent play a little easier than it would be growing up in the U.K., especially if you are an Arsenal fan outside of London like Hornby. After a disappointing or unexpected result from Arsenal, I can go about the rest of my day without enduring the teasing and jeering Hornby described. The flip side of this is that, when Arsenal wins, there is less of a community to share the celebration. To me, a big part of being a fan is going through the incredible highs of victory and the devastating lows of defeat.

    When there is not a culture of fandom around a sport, these highs and lows are not as extreme. When the Seattle Seahawks lost the Super Bowl in 2016 on a last second interception on the goal line by Malcom Butler of the New England Patriots, I was crushed. I couldn’t bring myself to do any work or focus on anything other than the “what ifs” that inevitably come with any close defeat. I didn’t have to look any of that information up because I can still vividly see the play and remember exactly how I felt when I watched it live. It was all anyone could talk about for the next few weeks at school and it made the emotions that much more intense. However, when Arsenal lost to Olympiakos, I moved on much quicker. Admittedly, it wasn’t a championship game, but the loss was no less intense as the game went into extra time to be decided. The real difference between these two experiences for me is that when the Seahawks lost, the whole community felt it, but when Arsenal lost, it felt like I was the only one who cared. While some might argue that this would make things worse, I am not obsessed enough with the club to silently mope in my room following a loss. Maybe I’m wrong though. It could just be a result of living over 4,500 miles from the club.

  12. David Frisch

    Fandom is often rooted in place. Not always, but often. Walking down the right streets in London on match day, you might pass quite a few people wearing Arsenal gear. In Pittsburgh, “Sunday best” probably refers almost as frequently to a Steeler’s jersey as to church clothing—with more overlap between the two than you might expect. Yet for some like Nick Hornby, connection to a place is a result of his love for the team and its fans. I nod to these fans. When Hornby stayed devoted to Arsenal despite regular harassment from his classmates, he showed a level of the sort of stubborn commitment that makes the fire of youth so commendable (26). My preference, however, is for the alternative—the people who cheer for the team that seemed to spring from their soil.

    Regardless the sport, I gave my friends who supported their parents’ teams trouble. It wasn’t mean spirited, but it was persistent. Augustine famously wrote in favor of religious persecution. You couldn’t force the most committed heretics to discard their beliefs, but you could change the habits of those who cared little for their faith. Augustine argued that imposing extra taxes and bureaucratic hurdles on non-Christians’ would persuade all but the most committed to convert to Christianity for thee sake of convenience. Once they were on what Augustine considered to be the right side, strengthening their piety would be comparatively easy. As a Jew, I cannot support this approach. As a Steelers fan, I can sympathize with it. People can cheer for the Patriots in Boston, but in Pittsburgh, you bleed black and gold. Period.

    I have a special place in my heart for fans devoted to hometown teams that find little success. It was easy for people to root for Arsenal when they were atop the league, but only true fans like Hornby and his dad attended games through years of (relative) mediocrity. In the section titled “Same Old Arsenal,” Hornby wrote of this drudgery as it took shape in January 1980 during “a nothing game between two nothing teams [Arsenal and Brighton].” “The team were in much the same state as we had found them twelve years before,” Hornby wrote, “and I am sure that [Hornby’s dad] must have complained about the cold, and Arsenal’s ineptitude.” The Pittsburgh Pirates started losing more than half of their games each season in the 1993 season, the same year that Bill Clinton was sworn in as President and that “The Sandlot” premiered in theaters. I was born four years later. In Fall 2013, I turned 16, Edward Snowden leaked NSA documents, and the Pirates had their first winning season of my lifetime. The world had changed dramatically, but the Pirates remained our baseball team through it all. True fandom is better than being a fair-weather fan.

    Being a committed fan is all the more commendable when the stakes are lower than they seem. Hornby’s devotion to Cambridge City F.C. is one such example (149). The people who support these teams often fit into one or both of two categories. Either, they love the sport so fully that they do not care who plays (more Hornby’s case), or they are so rooted in their place that their local team feels like a part of them. When I studied abroad at Cambridge, I only slowly got to meet the college bureaucrats, pub workers, accountants, and other non-university folk who knew Cambridge as their midsize hometown rather than as a university. I imagine that Hornby felt similarly going to Cambridge F.C. games as I did going to Durham Bulls games; local, no-name teams remind you of the humanity and life beyond in universities in towns known for them. As Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh’s Medical Schools draw increasingly cosmopolitan and transient visitors, I appreciate the Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer team and the Pittsburgh Pirates even more. Winning or losing, they’re mine.

  13. Rachel Simpson

    While reading Fever Pitch, I found it easy to relate to the emotional rollercoaster Hornby experienced while being an Arsenal fan, as I myself have found these feelings to hold true during many sports games I have watched. I found the quote, “I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it.” (page 15) to be telling of my experience while watching sports. Unlike Nick, I did not grow up watching football with my dad, but rather watched basketball instead. It was interesting to read how important of a role soccer played in Hornby’s life as I was always curious to know why one would be so enthralled in the sport as all of my stereotypical suburban middle-class American classmates were so interested in the game. In my community, it almost seemed like a rite of passage for all the boys to play on the Boynton Knights, the closest travel soccer team. Although basketball and soccer are completely different sports, I do understand the emotional pain sports can bring as being a former Miami Heat fan and subsequent Duke basketball fan has brought me countless memories full of both joy and pain.

    As a south Florida native, it was expected of me to be a Miami Heat fan as they were the team closest to home. I became particularly intrigued in the sport and specifically the Heat when Lebron joined the team in 2010. It was a great time to be a Heat fan as Lebron was a major contributor to them winning both the 2012 and 2013 championships. Unlike Hornby, I was used to “faces contorted by rage or despair or frustration. Entertainment as pain was an idea [not] entirely new to me…” (page 20) since I could hear my dad yelling at players in my bedroom upstairs from our family room downstairs when his favorite teams did not play to his liking. To our dismay Lebron left the Heat in 2014 and along with him went all of our wins.

    After a while, I could no longer cheer on the Heat as they continued to lose countless games. I salute Hornby for his undying love and support for Arsenal as I could not offer the same to the Heat. Once I came to Duke, I became a devoted Duke basketball fan and I think we can all relate to all the joy and pain the team has brought us over the years. Despite Duke’s basketball team continuously stressing me out over the years, similarly to Hornby’s never-ending support for Arsenal, I would have still put my heart on the line all over again to see Duke play in March madness prior to the Coronavirus.

    A sad senior with no championship to look back on at her time at Duke

  14. Andrew Donohue

    Reading Fever Pitch was a bit like taking a trip down memory lane to my own experiences with fandom growing up. Like Hornby, my first touches with sports fandom were through my dad. We would watch the Minnesota Vikings play together every Sunday and sports were the main topic of conversation between us. They still are, whenever I call home, we always break down the latest in Minnesota sports. My devotion surpassed my dad’s though as I threw myself into learning everything possible about the Vikings from mock drafts to film breakdowns mirroring Hornby’s own fandom. And as anyone who knows the history of Minnesota football, I have suffered countless crushing defeats from this past year all the way back to 2009. It is the cruel twist of fandom that I am helplessly devoted to this team yet receive so little in return with the Vikings having failed to ever win the Super Bowl.
    That is what Hornby describes so well the feeling of disappointment after a loss, but also you keep coming back in desperate hope that next year will turn out differently.

  15. Suniel Veerakone

    I think Nick Hornby gives a perfect insight into the heart of a football fan. While the mind (we hope) thinks rationally, the heart can be easily captured. For us fans of the sport we find reasons to make sense of our absurd superstitions like wearing a certain kit on match day or watching from a certain location, and easily blame ourselves for a club’s loss. And as any football fan would know, Hornby’s allegiance to Arsenal is probably one of the most tragic a fan can have. Years of beautiful football being played, yet seemingly not enough trophies to show for it. As other fans might harshly tell you, a club that’s become synonymous with the number 4. So it’s no wonder Hornby ‘leaves the entertainment to the clowns’. And while I understand his need for results, I differ in Hornby’s love for entertainment. There’s beauty in that Arsenal goal against Norwich that shouldn’t be held equal to all others. But perhaps this belief is the consequence of not growing up in a city where a club is found in.

    Along with everyone else who’s fallen in love with football, I’ve traveled the world for the sole purpose of being able to watch the greatest clubs in action. A Champions League semifinal at Camp Nou proved to be everything you’d expect. From the chills of the anthem to the stadium-wide holding of breath each time Messi receives the ball, 90 minutes never seems to go by so quickly as it does in a football stadium. Similarly to Hornby’s descriptions, I saw myself and fellow Barca fans suffering as the game went by and studying each pass as if there was an exam following the final whistle.

    And then there’s La Bombonera. Where fandom is on a whole other level. If Barca fans were professors of the game, Boca fans were the disruptive kids at the back; they ran the show. From hours before the game to hours after, Buenos Aires was singing the chants of Boca. While most stadiums have a specific group of ultras, La Bombonera were the ultras. It was something that I’ve never experienced before. La Doce, as the fans call themselves are exactly that -the 12th man- and clearly have every bit of influence on the outcome of the game.

    Nevertheless, and regardless of what club or style we support, the ups and downs of football fandom is something we don’t have to be in a stadium to relate to. As Hornby puts it, “Life isn’t, and has never been, a 2-0 home victory after a fish and chip lunch”.

  16. Richard Huang

    As I was reading Fever Pitch, I envied the fandom that Hornby grew up experiencing. Growing up, there was only so much commitment to the sport while missing the most crucial experiences: attending live matches. Unlike Hornby, who cites his first live match watching Arsenal as the impetus for his loyalty to the club, I can only remember small insignificant snippets of the first match I attended, which was AC Milan vs. Inter Milan playing in the U.S. back in 2009. The most I could remember was how hard it was to see the ball and the players from our stop high in the stadium. Despite this, the moments that Hornby describes are some that I can still relate to. One of which was when he, as a child, describes seeing the jeering and anger of the crowds during his attendance at live games. This anger, mostly shown by the people who have been watching soccer for at least a few years, was a reaction, like Hornby, that I struggled to understand. Even to this day, the only time my dad cusses is when we’re watching soccer, when someone makes a poor pass, keeps the ball too long, or just makes a terrible decision. When I was younger I used to always wonder what the big deal was – after all it was just a game, relax. However, now I find myself in a similar boat. Sometimes slamming the table or hopelessly tossing my hands in the air when I’m watching a game I’m invested in. Other times I find myself so overjoyed that I’m jumping out of the seat I’m in. Looking back it’s almost comical how a game to me now can be equal parts anger and happiness. Hornby has made me realize that I’ve indeed grown from watching games through pure indifference to now being my most animated self during a match.

  17. John Roh

    Fever Pitch was definitely an eye-opener for someone such as myself. Growing up as a first generation Korean in America, my life was a strange blend of Korean and Southern culture, but one thing that was never really an aspect of my hybrid culture until High School was sports. See, traditional Koreans care about two things regarding growing boys: academics and height. With no space among family and no close connections growing up that cared about sports, it all remained a distant entity that had nothing to do with me. It was certainly a critical part of the world, but never one I cared insanely about. I never had a sports idol or a team that I just couldn’t miss play. I would watch various games and appreciate what I found entertaining – the athleticism, the dedication, the luck, the crazy moments. That was all.

    Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch gave me something else I could appreciate about sports: the nature of the true fan. The fan whose life revolved around their team. The fan who saw the same connection between their own lives and the team’s life as people see in astrology and horoscopes. The fan who would burden themselves with suffering for near decades for the one moment of bliss. The fan who did all this while realizing deep down inside that they had practically no influence on their team’s performance. While I could never relate to an obsession of this magnitude myself, I certainly find myself in awe of it.

    Having had no experience of such an obsession myself, coming to live in one for 240-some pages was a unique experience. It was a glimpse into a world I was aware of but didn’t really understand or appreciate. Fever Pitch was a book that, if it had not been for this class, I would have simply never read or cared about, and perhaps I appreciate this book all the more for that very reason.

  18. David Kohler

    In this week’s reading of Fever Pitch, I found myself particularly caught on the chapter Clowns. In this chapter, Nick Hornby starts off talking about a particularly unremarkable and forgettable game between Arsenal and Stoke in 1980. It started off very slow with a goalless first half, and Arsenal managed to get two goals late in the game to win. The importance of this game was not the result but rather what Alan Durban said afterwards, “If you want entertainment… go and watch clowns” (125). He then goes on to talk about this idea and how there is this very complicated and problematic relationship between fans and some of the best moments of the game. Obviously, fans want a good game, but they want it to be a good game for their team. Hornby even says, “I go to football for loads of reasons, but I don’t go for entertainment… For the committed fan, entertaining football exists in the same way as those trees that fall in the middle of the jungle: you presume it happens, but you’re not in a position to appreciate it” (127-128).

    This chapter got me thinking about my own relationship with sports and football, and it really connected to me. I’m a Liverpool fan, and I love seeing Liverpool do well. A beautiful goal by Salah? A magnificent cross from Robertson up to a wide open Mané? I love it! But a brilliant run by Eden Hazard, nutmegging Firmino, and shooting right past Mignolet into the net? Ehh not loving it as much. There’s no denying the beauty of some goals scored against my team, but that doesn’t mean I really appreciate them or want that kind of excitement. If Liverpool need to go defense-heavy and just park the bus to ensure we stay at the top of the table, I am okay with that. Like Hornby, I’m not looking at those games for entertainment—I just want Liverpool to win. On the other hand, I absolutely love watching the goal highlights and best moments from all of the other games not involving Liverpool that go on every week. Kevin De Bruyne rockets in a goal against Newcastle? Loving it again. It is odd to have this conflicted relationship with the sport, and extremely frustrating sometimes; but what can you do? Football is not always an entirely rational sport.

  19. Sebastian Hoyt

    I can honestly and legitimately say that after starting to read Fever Pitch, I hate how much I can relate to Nick Hornby. I can’t help but laugh at how much I feel like I have in common with this complete stranger from another continent, but such is the effect of football I guess.

    To start with, Hornby explains how his Arsenal super-fandom began as a way for he and his father to bond despite not having him around very often. This is so similar to the beginning of my Arsenal fandom that it is almost scary. In middle school, around 6th grade, my dad and I just started to follow soccer professionally after I grew up playing the sport for most of my life prior to then. Initially, like many of us do, I chose to follow what I perceived as the best team: Barcelona. My dad on the other hand had a brother who, at the time, was stationed in England as an active serviceman in the United States Air Force. Since he had been there starting in the early 2000’s, he quickly picked up on supporting Arsenal (who were quite good at the time) and in turn, convinced my dad to do the same. Inevitably, my days supporting Barcelona were short lived as we quickly became a household of Gooners.

    Well, in the 7th grade my dad got me my first Arsenal kit for Christmas. To this day, it is my favorite kit and I own more than I am proud of admitting, some that carry extreme sentimental value as well. It was a #4 Cesc Fabregas home kit and I wore that thing everywhere. I only wish I had known the detriments of washing kits back in those days because today the ‘Fly Emirates’ text is nearly all gone.

    I especially wore it when my dad would pick me up on Saturdays to go to the local British Pub, grab some breakfast, and watch Arsenal play after my parents separated when I was in 8th grade. Having those moments with him meant a lot because prior to my parents separation I had considered my dad and I to be very close. To this day, it is my dream to travel with Pops to the Emirates for a game. That would be the icing on the cake for our relationship. It would also be a cool way to honor my uncle who started this all and went to countless games at the Emirates, and who passed away when I was in 8th grade.

    I see myself in other parts of Hornby as well. During matches I typically do not like to be bothered, and I’ll often watch them alone to avoid getting the ‘typical Arsenal’ load of B.S. from any of my friends that also follow the Premier League. The banter back in the day about Arsenal finishing 4th in the table for what seemed like an eternity or the bit about always losing to Bayern in the Champions League cut pretty deep, mostly because of how true and repetitive it all seemed. Oddly enough I would trade anything to be teased about our Champions League performance right now as it seems like even qualifying for Champions League is a pipe dream.

    Mr. Hornby, if you are reading this, I appreciate everything you’ve said in this book and how you’ve said it. COYG

    “You are my Arsenal,
    My only Arsenal,
    You make me happy,
    When skies are grey,
    You’ll never know just,
    How much I love you,
    So please don’t take my Arsenal away.”

  20. Laurent Dubois Post author

    Evan, these are great comments — I really enjoyed reading your own musings on Chelsea fandom, and am glad that Hornby touched a chord and resonated with your experiences. And I’m sure the tattoo did help!

  21. Evan Neel

    I never thought I’d be able to identify so much with an Arsenal fan. Yet Hornby’s way of expressing his love for the club in a humorous, and at times self-depricating, fashion made it nearly impossible for any sports fanatic not to relate with the themes at play. I personally felt very connected to his description of loving Arsenal as being a curse in which he had no say in the matter. Similarly to how Hornby seemed to involuntarily fall for Arsenal at a young age after watching one of their games, I became sworn to an allegiance with Chelsea in an almost identical fashion. All of a sudden it simply clicked, and no matter how much suffering and pain came with a loss, the relief and rush of victory always made up for it.

    While supporting Chelsea has undoubtedly brought me countless moments of pure joy (some of which, embarrassingly enough, rank among my happiest moments in life thus far), it has also devastated me, swung me into depressive states, and dealt me a great deal of stress and pain which I’m sure has taken a couple of years off my life expectancy. In return for being filled with genuine thrill and happiness, one must pay the price. Because of this exchange, it leaves no doubt in my mind that seasonal viewers, or fans only around for the winning seasons, can never experience the full extent of what football has to offer. This is why truly falling in love with a football club can be described no better than as a curse.

    I’ve been pushed to tears by dramatic losses (most notably vs Barca in 2009 or vs Man U in 2008) and filled with rage by disgraceful acts of officiating (also Chelsea vs Barca, 2009). I’ve spent my whole life scheduling around Chelsea’s fixtures, and often canceling on friends when I forget about them. I purposely showed up late to my own team’s practices in order to catch the final minutes of many European fixtures (I would show up to an onslaught of banter if the game ended in defeat). I cannot even begin to count the number of lectures I’ve ignored in order to distractingly cheer for my team in the back of the class, or how my GPA has suffered due to this prioritization. I have jeopardized relationships and scared off girlfriends when I mistakenly invited them to watch a derby game with me. Even after watching every heartbreaking defeat during the team’s worst league performance in 20 years (2015/2016, 10th), I allowed myself to go through even more pain by tattooing the clubs crest on my ankle (to which I believe somehow contributed to the team’s dominate league victory the next season). Yet for me, all of this can be justified with the joy of winning a single trophy.

    So, thank you Nick Hornby, for writing a book about not just the highs, but the inevitable lows that come with fandom as well.


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