The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR5 Review #16: Fever Pitch

For how this review of more modern London living relates back to the tried-and-true Rumpole and other classic British monuments, look at my regular blog: The Scruffy Rube

Fever PitchI was happy to find in Hornby ‘s work a memoir for a thinking sports fan (something I aspire to be on two other websites). It’s a great guide for academics who want to see exactly what drives an otherwise sane man to spend a large portion of his weekend (not to mention his salary) supporting a collection of athletes who don’t really know that he exists. Hornsby’s passion sears the pages, his concern and elation  for formations and strategies of his beloved Arsenal eleven are apparent from the first word to the last. It shows how, in a city as teeming and varied as London, you can still create an identity through a community, even if it’s just one that wears the same jersey as you on match days.

Unfortunately for Hornby, and–I imagine–many other fans, the sporting community of twenty years ago has changed. Arsenal no longer play at Hornsby’s beloved Highbury, but at a gargantuan beast of a place called “Air Emirates Stadium” a mile away. The old 1-0 grind out Gunners that Hornsby found an affection for have been replaced by a whirling collection of international stars (I recall Indian students complaining that the numerous French players on Arsenal made it less of an English team than a French one). Hornsby’s sincere admiration for fans of less dominant teams (your Nottingham Forests, Cambridge Uniteds and Wolverhamptons) is positively quaint in an age when, walking into sports shops throughout the country I could only see jerseys for Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City.

Hornby’s book, though academically intriguing is limited by the greatest limitation a sports fan has: sometimes the rest of the world thinks you’re speaking an alien language. Even I, a would be serious futbol fan, was utterly clueless about who on earth he was referring to for most of the book (just as Hornsby would be dumbfounded if I spent pages debating the relative worth of Brendan Harris versus Al Newman–give yourself credit if you know either of those two men). Sports fans thrive on sharing their community with others, but when writing about it, we risk shuttering the doors against anyone who’s not already part of the community. Worse still, those of us who relish the chance to discuss our community’s past are often held captive as time marches on and the community around us changes too. When that happens (as it does with Fever Pitch) you’re robbed of connecting the past to the present and learning what it all means and how it all relates.

I’m a fan, of English literature, and English culture, and English sports. But that doesn’t mean I understand what it is to be English as intimately and personally as those who actually are English. A little help from a smart writer like Mr. Hornby, will always be appreciated. A little more help will always be required.