Sunday, 14 July, 2024

לוגו האתר - מחסום כתיבה

The Ball is Round: Fever Pitch is Not Just Another Book About Football

The Ball is Round: Fever Pitch is Not Just Another Book About Football

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The type of fandom described in Nick Hornby's "Fever Pitch" is so extreme that it represents a relatively small percentage of football enthusiasts, so how did it become the Bible of fans, including these lines? The critic delves into the Sixteenth Line, attempting to answer this riddle.

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May 12, 1998, started relatively optimistic. Exactly 25 years had passed since the last time Hapoel Jerusalem reached the Football State Cup final—when they defeated Hakoah Ramat Gan and won the cup. We were only 18 years old at the time and hadn’t witnessed our team achieving such feats. We stood on the benches at Ramat Gan Stadium for the cup final against Maccabi Haifa and felt as though the sky was the limit. It’s a shame we didn’t consider our perpetual loser status because maybe then we would have been spared the heartache when, in the 110th minute, our team began to fall apart, conceding two goals in two minutes, sending us home crestfallen, as we’ve grown accustomed to since we began supporting the team.

The life of a football fan is full of disappointments. If you don’t believe me, ask Nick Hornby, who in the early ’90s wrote what, at least my fellow supporters and I referred to as, the “Bible” of football fans. In case you’re wondering, Hornby is an avid Arsenal fan, then a team that, for a significant portion of football fans worldwide, represents all that is wrong with English football. Even if you weren’t wondering about it, you’d probably understand it quite quickly from a short conversation with the author. If you ask a random person on the street to describe themselves, they might start with their profession or family situation. For example, I’m a content manager and book reviewer, a father to wonderful kids, a literature enthusiast, and a Hapoel Katamon fan. If Nick Hornby had to define himself, chances are he would start with his support for Arsenal and only then, if there’s time, move on to his profession and family situation.

Hornby is not alone. Football stadiums are filled with people for whom the football club plays an inseparable part of their personality. People who live from game to game and rattle off statistics and player names as if their lives depended on it. But that’s not what makes them true fans. That is, and I’ll say it before said fans start chasing me with insults and smoke bombs, I didn’t doubt for a second on their support for and the feelings they have towards their team, but standing in the stands and their position on the fluctuating scale of sanity is not a representation of their fandom, but rather their way of dealing with it.

According to Hornby, the main difference between a real football fan and a football enthusiast lies in the basis of enjoyment from the game. Or rather, the absence of one. Football enthusiasts can watch and enjoy the game, whereas fans watch it in a perpetual state of anxiety. As a fan, I must admit there’s something in his argument. It’s hard for me to think of a game where I didn’t feel the sting of terror from the moment the opening whistle blew until the inevitable loss.

“Fever Pitch” is the only sports book I’ve read in my life, so I don’t know how unique it is in its field, but when reading it, it’s hard not to notice that the central figure in this book is not football but the fans. In fact, as much as the game is always in the background, it’s not really mentioned as much as you would expect. Especially when the book is written by an author who defines himself as an obsessive fan. And actually, that’s the whole point. It’s a book about an obsessive tendency that takes over the life of the person suffering from it. The only reason this tendency isn’t defined as pathological is society’s acceptance of this behavior (to a certain extent) as long as it’s beneficial for some sports game. Because if Hornby spoke with similar enthusiasm about a collection of clay dolls from Crete, chances are most of us wouldn’t be interested in continuing to read what he has to say or, alternatively, following him down a dark alley. But when a grown men obsesses over any small gossip or detail related to their football team, however small (back in the late ’90s before the internet age, we developed an insane skill of identifying the combination of words “Hapoel Jerusalem” quickly while skimming through the sports sections), and allows their football team’s achievements to affect their mood entirely, we accept it.

Not surprisingly, Hornby’s next novel, “High Fidelity,” also focuses on obsession—about music and cataloging every item in life in never-ending lists—because, like all writers, he writes mainly about himself. So if in “High Fidelity” he expresses his love for music, in “Fever Pitch,” he dives in with full force, headfirst, and cleats first into the ball to make it clear to the reading audience that he is first and foremost an Arsenal fan. In both, he expresses the obsessive component that plays a significant and crucial part in shaping his personality.

But if Hornby’s extreme fandom style barely touches most football fans, how did this book become a respected guest in the lists of all-time important football or sports books? (An interesting fact I just made up, but I’m sure it has a kernel of truth.) Perhaps because this book legitimizes losing oneself in everything related to football and still being normative people, working in advertising or media, or maybe even as literature critics here and there.

In short, an excellent book.

Five beautifully curved shots to the connections and audience roaring in ecstasy.

Fever Pitch / Nick Hornby / Riverhead Books

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