Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Foot-Lit, Part 4
4. Phil Ball, Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football
Already reviewed here.
5. Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch
“Fan-lit” is virtually taken for granted these days, especially the light-hearted, self-pitying type. It’s easy to forget, then, that there was a time when such writing was virtually nonexistent. It was Nick Hornby’s wry, lovingly-crafted chronicle of his life as an Arsenal fan that kick-started the genre (which is now, incidentally, becoming turgidly predictable).
There have been plenty of serious studies of the psychology of the sports fan, but Nick Hornby’s self-analysis, although often flippant, provides a much more vivid picture. The lack of a rational explanation, the clammy fears of missing important games, the loss of objectivity, the acquired pedantry…they all get an extended rumination.
In between times, Hornby offers some often perceptive comments on the various issues facing English football in the seventies and eighties, including the slide towards hooliganism, the effects of the post-Heysel ban, and the move to all-seater stadiums following the Hillsborough disaster. His account of the evening of Heysel, which he spent in the company of some pleasant young Italian students, is perhaps the most moving part of the book.
Hornby’s decision to mark off the book not by chapters but by games was a masterstroke (with apologies to Guus). The football fan, we are presumably meant to infer, marks off his life (it is, as Hornby mentions, chiefly a male phenomenon) in seasons, then matches.
And Hornby can write. There are some truly memorable passages, and one of them occurs in the lead-up to the book’s undoubted climax, Arsenal’s extraordinary league triumph of 1988/89, when they scored the decisive goal in injury time of the final match of the season, to pip their old rivals Liverpool. Hornby recalls:
…as the game progressed, and it became obvious that Arsenal were going to go down fighting, it occurred to me just how well I knew my team, their faces and their mannerisms, and how fond I was of each individual member of it. [Paul] Merson’s gap-toothed smile and tatty soul-boy haircut, [Tony] Adams’s manful and endearing attempts to come to terms with his own inadequacies, [David] Rocastle’s pumped-up elegance, [Alan] Smith’s lovable diligence…I could find it in me to forgive them for coming so close and blowing it…
Except that they didn’t, and their ultimate success provided Hornby with the perfect finale.
"On a slightly related note, do you know by chance of any good books on the J-League?"
One I've heard a fair amount (of good) about is Japanese Rules. 'Tis available via Dymocks online, I've never seen it in a store.