Sugar Mice and Buzzcocks Albums

May 7, 2011

I just finished reading Fever Pitch. I’d strongly recommend you give it a try.

The more general reason first. It’s one of those precious few books that take a fairly esoteric field and make it accessible even for the non-specialist. And football fandom, as the book demonstrates clearly enough, can be an intimidatingly esoteric field. In a telling anecdote, when Hornby is challenged regarding his loyalty to Arsenal by a middle school pupil at his first job, he reacts by rattling off trivia to show he knows the team more intimately. Hornby does a remarkable job as an author by taking that maddening obsession with minutiae (it IS minutiae to all the result of us non-obsessives!) that defines a fan, revelling in it and yet not making that a bar from the enjoyment of the book as a personal tale of a deep and abiding love. Isaac Asimov makes science fiction similarly accessible (in contrast to, say, Fred Hoyle) and I suspect many of the bestsellers (Robin Cook and Frederick Forsyth come to mind) too bring that touch in. Hornby, like Asimov, however goes a step further in making this book one with that tantalizing ‘literary value’ that sets apart a page-turner from a book you’d pick up for a re-read. And I’ve read other work by Hornby – ok, so just How to Be Good, but still – and that was a strictly-average book. It’s as though the subject matter, and the obvious passion Hornby feels for it makes him a much more rewarding author to read.

The personal reason is that I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for sportswriting. While I pretty much suck at all things athletic, and still haven’t found a sport or a team that leaves me with no choice but to follow it regularly (I’m lazy. There, I’ve admitted it), but give me a newspaper sports section with articles that go a little further than just reporting the scores, and I’d even happily read about the great and wondrous hope cricket manages to provide to a country besieged with an utter lack of dominance in any other sport, despite being a very vocal anti-fan of the sport itself. Football centric writing, particularly when the national tournaments are being played, provides some of the best sport-as-metaphor themes – think of all those articles about the resurgence of an acceptable public German patriotism during the 2006 World Cup. One of the few tennis matches I’ve actually had the patience to sit through was the 2001 Australian Open, Safin playing Hewitt and one of the things that made it so memorable was a very well-written paean to Safin by Rohit Brijnath that appeared the next day in the IE. (Strangely, now that I come to think of it, I can’t remember having ever read any other sports-based book before FP. Most of them have been newspaper or magazine articles.) Again, at some level, I’m sure the richness of sportswriting has to do with the richness of the subject matter itself.

There were of course the little, quirkier touches that made me smile as I read the book. The ease with which Hornby interchanges ‘girlfriend’ and ‘partner’ as though deliberately mocking feminist hair-splitting over the terms. Using ‘susurration’ to describe crowd reactions – I love the way that word rolls off the tongue, and this was the first time I’d ever seen it being used without seeming out of place or pretentious. Using ‘ersatz’ while describing Tottenham fans. This is just a personal connection, since the first time I read that word was also in a football context – someone describing the atmosphere outside Japanese/ Korean stadiums during the 2002 World Cup. The part about superstitions for luck – I do that a lot too (that’s where the title for this post comes from). Or the chapter about a growing unease with his girlfriend/partner’s attachment to the club – I’ve never liked it either when stuff I like goes too mainstream.

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