I know I know, Fever Pitch isn’t a short story. It’s an exceedingly long story. But it’s made up of short stories and so I think it qualifies. It’s like a collection of little truths about soccer and about love and about life and hate and pain, all rolled up into one easily portable format. A book.
The reason I’ve decided to include this book as part of my practice is that, as someone who came to both adulthood and soccer (watching it, at least, having finally gotten the right channel in 2006) and Arsenal was my team. Now this was years and years after the story of Fever Pitch ends, but I still can’t call myself a fan of the game without this important bit of literature behind it. However, since Arsenal and 2006, my home town of Seattle has been a soccer stronghold in the USA, and despite the notably less talented play of Major League Soccer, I can’t quite help but root more strangly for my home team than for a team in England–or Germany, as I’ve come to appriciate the German Bundesliga moer than the Premier League.
Anyway, Fever Pitch starts out in 1968. The world of soccer was so much different then. Since I started following Arsenal in 2006 they have gone from a big club that played the most beautiful ball in all the game to a inconsistant club to a f*cking disaster club.
But back in 68, when Mr. Hornby went and saw his first game, Arsenal had a reputation for being the ugliest and most boring football team in the world. What is it that makes the reputation of a club change? Is it a coach? Since 1996 Arsene Wenger has been at the helm of Arsenal, and while he undoubtedly put some quality teams on the pitch, the Invincibles (the only English team to ever go a season unbeatan in league play), and the Champions League side that lost narrowly to Barcelona just months before I got satellite TV for the 2006 World Cup. And Yes, Arsenal won a few domestic league titles in that span as well, but sadly, that is all far behind.
The difficulty in supporting a soccer team the way in which Mr. Hornby did, and I presume still does (or at least I hope), is that there’s very little pleasure derived from such loyalty. Even the best of teams win substantial trophies once every 3 years at best, and often that the euphoria of that trophy is often tainted by the failure in the FA Cup, Champions League (formerly The Cup Winners Cup), or even the Europa Leauge. It is, in conclusion, a very difficult thing to be a soccer fan with a home team. While I don’t have it in my blood like Mr. Hornby does, I too was enthralled by Arsenal–though in 06′ rather than 68′. Whatever the reason, I’m certain it doesn’t matter. What matters is supporting it, loving it, hating it, much like a best friend–one that you can’t wait to spend time with, but that you are often dissapointed with.