Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch – Holiday Reading

Fever Pitch – Nick Hornby

My holiday reading for the moment is Nick Hornby’s fever pitch. It’s such a stark counterpoint to the form of cosmopolitan football support we’ve grown used to – having come into London from all corners of the world. My support for Manchester United can be traced back to the simple coincidence that I started following English football closely in the 1999 season. Many of my friends in Mumbai and Delhi who have taken to the game before or after support Liverpool or Arsenal and I’m sure there are now legions of supporters of the new improved Chelsea. I have to admit, no matter how deep our joy or sorrow at outcomes of games – it all seems synthetic – and I often cringe when somebody says “you guys are playing at the weekend” – it seems like somehow I’ve connived myself into an elite set that I don’t really belong to – and it’s my own little dark secret. Reading Fever Pitch reaffirms what I’ve realized and believed all along. Football support for most people isn’t just about the game. It’s about identity, growing up, self discovery and a lifelong social context.

The other fascinating analogy I’ve found so far, is, somewhere along the way Hornby makes a rant against the higher prices. His argument basically suggests that rising ticket prices changes the composition of the crowd – the working class and lower middle class punters get supplanted by families and middle classes and executive boxes. He also makes the curious point that the stadiums owe their atmosphere and the wall of noise to the aforementioned working class fans and that those in the executive box are getting this “atmosphere” free of cost. And that shorn of this segment of spectators, the whole proposition of the game may change for the rest of the viewers who may stay away. This of course, we know today is not true of Arsenal – they’re still as noisy and as crowded at Highbury, and no doubt, will be so at Ashberton Grove. But over at Old Trafford, the anti-Glazer demonstrations, I believe are simply alternative expressions of this same class struggle.

Recent demonstrations during the Glazer visits have driven a wedge between the larger body of reasonable United supporters and the rabid set of game-goers who’s actions have been soundly criticized as yobbish by supporters of the game from across the world. The real change that the Glazers pose to the Old Trafford faithful is actually the same as the one described by Hornby – a potential substitution of the working class faithful by a more “elite” and financially more secure set. The instrument of this of course is the ticket price. Manchester United, surprisingly has one of the lowest (if not the lowest) ticket prices among the major premiership clubs, and clearly the Glazers will want to rectify that to a more appropriate market clearing price – which clearly is much higher than the current one as evidenced by the thousands of people who want but can’t get tickets for the Old Trafford games. The rest of the arguments, like the debt etc. are clearly specious as nobody among the so called supporter groups really understands business well enough to make those claims and it was also reported that Arsenal took on a larger debt to build Ashberton Grove.

That apart, I recommend Fever Pitch strongly to anybody with a serious or passing interest in football. It is a fantastic window into the lives behind the 50 thousand people who fill the stands and contribute to making the game the fantastic experience it is.

Of course, its worth mentioning that the book recounts in lurid detail the dry years of Arsenal football club – all those years of “Boring boring Arsenal” and in Hornby’s own words “Every Arsenal fan, from the youngest to the oldest, is aware of the fact that no one likes us, and every day we hear that dislike reiterated.” What a difference a Frenchman (or two) makes!

Not to mention the scary sense of identification any football fan will feel with what is lucidly and often deprecatingly described by Hornby himself as clearly less than social behaviour. But there are some real gems – for example football fans never describe describe years in calendar years… I quote “…Our years… run from August to May, June and July don’t really happen (especially in years which end with an odd number and which therefore contain no world cup or European Championship). Ask us for the best or worst period in our lives, and we will often answer with 4 figures – 66/67 for Manchester United fans, 67-68 for Manchester City fans… a silent slash in the middle the only concession to the calendar used elsewhere in the western world”… or where he in great detail points out his ethical and moral dilemma should his spouse or partner take ill or have a baby during the course of an FA cup final involving Arsenal! Enough said… if you haven’t read it do so NOW and note the number of times it makes you smile, chuckle or feel embarrassed.

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