book bench for Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch
London, Books About Town, Book Benches 6-7-2014

30 years since Fever Pitch – what has changed?

“Any event of any significance has a footballing shadow”, writes Nick Hornby in his 1992 memoir Fever Pitch – a masterful account of his life as a football fan. Having just finished reading what is described by many as one of the greatest football books of all time, it feels necessary to reflect on Fever Pitch’s key messages and how they apply to today’s game.

The core theme throughout the memoir is Hornby’s belief that the highs and lows of watching Arsenal mirrored those in his personal life – as if the team’s performance closely reflected his mood at the time. This running comparison sets the book aside from many other accounts of football – as there is a distinctly open nature that breaks down the wall between the game and the supporter. This perfect correlation may seem unrealistic to many, but Hornby’s emphasis on his devotion for the game sets him on a level far above the average fan. This theme is one that has stood the test of time, and will continue to do so, with sporting success being an unwavering driver of happiness.

A relatable segment of Fever Pitch is Hornby’s description of his time studying at Cambridge.

The author discussed how he was enveloped in football throughout his degree – playing for his college and watching both Cambridge United and Cambridge City. Hornby recounts this period in a way that showed how football can act as a comfort blanket when being faced with the unknown. My first term at Oxford matched this experience, with each game being a moment to look forward to.

While these personal thoughts about football are clearly timeless, many of Hornby’s experiences are far from anything a fan would witness today. A major talking point during Fever Pitch is the glaring lack of fan safety that persisted, without repair, in the build-up to the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. Hornby frequently mentions situations in which he found himself in a human crush – to the extent that it became an expectation when watching the game. Hillsborough sparked changes to the fan experience that were decades too late, with all-seaters replacing the decrepit remains of stadiums far past their prime – a change that Hornby, despite being a regular on the standing terraces, eagerly accepted.

With these changes, the game’s demographic has changed – most noticeably at the top of the English ladder. Stadiums, once squeezed into residential areas to bring in fans on foot, have expanded alongside the financial growth of the game to form giant complexes that are accessible from anywhere. Ticket prices have soared beyond the value expected with inflation, leaving a Hornby-like lifestyle of regular attendance unattainable for most fans.

Another experience Hornby recounts in Fever Pitch is the discrimination that was rife on the terraces at Premier League games. Despite numerous campaigns beginning operation with the aim to tackle this problem in the years since the book’s release, the issue is still undoubtedly present. Where discrimination has been less openly voiced in the stands, it has been replaced by hateful social media content – a problem unimproved in the past few years.

Fever Pitch’s account of Arsenal ends midway through the 1991/92 season, in which Arsenal slumped in form after earning the league title dominantly the previous season. Since this conclusion, the side clinched 3 more titles in the following 13 years – including the iconic “Invincibles” season of 2003/04. Wenger’s post-Fever Pitch climax marks the beginning of a drought that is approaching 20 years in length, however Arsenal are sitting comfortably at the top of the Premier League table at the halfway mark this season. Yet, as Hornby emphasised throughout his book, it is important not to become hopeful too early.


Image description: Book Bench for Nick Horby’s ‘Fever Pitch’

Image credit: Martin Pettitt via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)