Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby’s account of his obsession with his favourite team is a football fiction hall of famer - if ever there was such a thing.
It should be famous for the quality of the writing, the humour and the incredibly moving chapter regarding the Hillsborough nightmare, but it’s mostly about a sad wee football fanatic who can’t keep a girl.
Hornby’s style keeps his work from falling easily into transparent genres. More importantly the book vindicates the unrequited love people like us (I mean geeks like me ’n him at least) have for something as ungiving as a football team. It allows us to get away with justifying the irrational. (Almost). It provides depth and meaning to our resentment of the phrase “it’s only a game.”
Unless, of course, you’re this guy…ESPN Soccernet's review of Fever Pitch. Sean didn’t do enough research and read the book with a preconceived agenda in mind and I think kind of missed most of the point as a result. Still I’m glad he liked it.
For me the issue of the book’s notoriety does come from its spawning of a horrible film adaptation. Two horrible film adaptations to be precise.
For a stiff English man playing a stiff English man, Colin Firth did reasonably well. The US version with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon (another SNL movie flopper) had to be baseball to make it more, I dunno…accessible? It smells like shite, primarily because it is.
As a writer myself, or at least someone aspiring to make a living from the written word, I have to commend Hornby for doing it, getting away with it and keeping on doing it. Not too many authors have managed a film from a book let alone two. Even fewer writers have been responsible for two large scoops of celluloid poo and maintained as much authorial credibility as he has. I think it's because he’s a decent bloke and a great writer.
I’ve been told that one of the secrets of Hornby’s success, particularly his earlier ostensibly boys books, Fever Pitch, High Fidelity and About A Boy, is there’s always something in it for the girls. His work has an emotive largesse which appeals to the eh, more emotional in our football fiction tribe. I wondered if it was what Dougie Brimson was driving at when he talked about ‘making blokes sound like limp wristed tossers’. (See the Dougie Brimson Interview this blog, April 9th 2008).
In the aftermath of the books success he was kind of held up as editor in chief of all things football and has put his name or his work or written introductions for a number of collections of football writings – I’ll get to those in a later blog.
Nick Hornby has been held responsible for the initial breath of life given by the now bloated corpse of ‘lad’ lit. To me Fever Pitch was always more than that though, it was the book that helped me, and a lot of others I'd imagine, realise football writing, something far more durable than a notional category, can be literary. Of course, I then read McIlvanney, Walvin, White and Davies and found that people had been writing football literature long before Hornby, but he opened the door, he seemed to make it easier to get the ‘it’ of literary football fiction. I’m grateful he did.