Nick Hornby, born in 1957, is now a recognised novelist. His career began after studying English at Cambridge University, after which he taught there. Following this he worked for the major electronics company Samsung and then went on to freelance journalism before becoming a novelist.
His career took off with the success of Fever Pitch and he is still recognised as his most recent novel ‘How To Be Good’ made the 2001 Booker Prize list. His work as a whole can be put into three with separate themes: Relationships and their trickiness, London life and obsessions.
Hornby is noted by critics for his high sense of humour and the earthiness in his writing. Most people consider Hornby’s writing as ‘middle-brow’ and perhaps ‘laddish’ books. His talent is the way in which he makes the experiences of his characters become gripping and easy to recognise or identify with. Often this is on account of how ordinary they are.
Chirazi calls Fever Pitch ‘A loving account of the way his home team, Arsenal, has been symbolically linked to every significant event in his life.
’ Even though Chirazi supports Tottenham, so he is reticent.
Nick Hornby was in a variety of careers before he was a novelist. When he went back to writing he decided that he would write about the one thing he knew best ‘football’. Hornby being a mad Arsenal fan, writes down his reminisces and thoughts about his passion, which is at times illogical.
Fever Pitch along with High Fidelity (about obsessions with music, exploring the weird adolescent hangover that seems to strike men in their 30’s, mediation on lost loves, friendships and music) and About a Boy (about the struggle to grow up, responsibility and fatherhood) have been made into successful films starring such actors as John Cusack, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth.
On asking if Hornby likes watching his work being reinterpreted on the screen Hornby replied ‘Once I get the money that’s that!’
Critics have said that the book is more about obsession and football; they praised it for it’s wry humour and the shrewd insight to human behaviour.
I believe that Hornby is successful because of the way he can relate to other people’s emotions. He, like so many other men are dedicated to football, not as much as a hobby more of a religion. We have all felt that familiar feeling, a last-minute chance to score a winner only to have the shot stopped by what you believe is the goalkeeper’s luckiest stop of the day or the late tackle from your captain results in you going down to ten men and asking why they did it in the first place. The presentation of this behaviour, or dare I say simply human behaviour makes the book that so much more enjoyable.
This book is more autobiographical than anything else and thus the events are placed chronologically. From the start we hear of the broken family in which he has been brought up. In 1968 his father met someone else and moved out, Hornby lived with his mother and sister in a small detached house in the Home Counties.
‘I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women:’ the opening words of the first chapter show how strong his obsession is with football. Even though football is inanimate so it cannot love him back.
‘No thought to the pain or disruption it would bring’ this is almost a future reference to the disruption that football will bring to his life. The Highbury atmosphere gets him so enchanted; his obsession goes much deeper than results, he even knows the name and personalities of each player’s wife or girlfriend as if they were his own!
‘One-parent Saturday-afternoon-at-the-zoo problem’ this is one of the typical problems of having separated parents shows a lack of family entertainment, doing same thing week in week out. ‘Things had to change’ Nick is fed-up with this life of nights in hotels and eating in deserted restaurants. His father has been drinking too much and he wanted change.
His father had previously tried to get him to go to football matches, and he was amazed when he agreed to go with him on the second time of asking. He previously had been made to go to the theatre.
Hornby describes 1968 as ‘the most traumatic year of my life.’ He had had to move into a smaller house and was homeless for a while. Hornby became seriously ill with jaundice, but had no idea that ‘Arsenal fever’ was about to grip him.
During ‘Islington Boy’ the chapter of early 1972, Hornby encounters the feeling of rootlessness. ‘Ever since I have been old enough to understand what it means to be suburban I have wanted to come from somewhere else, preferably north-London.’ Hornby decides that the best way is to adopt an accents where he drops as many aitches as he can, and live far away, where people might believe that my Thames Valley home town had its own tube station and a West Indian community and terrible, insoluble social problems.
Reading played Arsenal in the 4th round cup-tie; it was one of Hornby’s most painful of his exposures to come. Hornby describes the Reading as ‘my nearest league team, an unhappy geographical accident that I would have done anything to change.’ Here Hornby meets a family of Reading supporters asking about Arsenal and making jokes about Charlie George’s hair.
The father inquired where Hornby lived, but after replying Maidenhead the father pointed out that he should not be supporting Arsenal and should be supporting his local team, causing him to blush. Hornby describes this feeling as ‘the most humiliating moment of my teenage years. A complete, elaborate and perfectly imagined world came crashing down around me and fell into chunks at my feet.’ Hornby was already gripped with ‘Arsenal Fever’ and to be told that what Hornby felt, one of the best things that had happened to him in his troubled up bringing, was wrong must have been a terrible thing to have said to you in your adolescence.
‘Graduation Day’ is the chapter that Hornby realises he is growing up and becoming a man. He is no longer allowed in schoolboys’ enclosure at 15 he must move to the North Bank. This was to be a major change to Hornby’s relationship with Arsenal. It was almost as if Hornby had become a man the day he went to the North Bank. ‘All the things that were supposed to change me – first kiss, loss of virginity, first fight, first drink, first drugs- just seemed to happen:’
Hornby describes the fact that people not only come to watch football on the pitch but to feel the atmosphere and watch others watch the match and provide their own commentary. It also seems that class barriers are mixed once you’re in the stadium, as if to say everyone’s a fan so everyone is equal. I found this quotation, which I think, agrees with a how the atmosphere in a full of stadium will sound like.
‘Football is a game of 2 goalkeepers, 20 outfield players, 2 linesman and at least 30,000 referees!’
Hornby is continually telling us how the atmosphere in the ground seemed to affect the performance of the Arsenal team almost as much as who was plying for either side. This sense of belonging is to something more than football but more to a community fans all cheering and jeering at the players on the pitch.
Another Major influence in Hornby’s life is women. During the chapters ‘Boys and Girls’ and ‘Just Like A Woman’ we learn that Hornby is being educated by women and about women. These chapters are based around late 1970s and I find the first line of the chapter to be very funny as it truly shows how much football is apart of this man’s life.
‘I did something else that year, apart from watch football, talk and listen to music: I fell stomach-churningly for a smart, pretty and vivacious girl from the teacher-training college.’
This can be related back to the opening line in the first chapter, in that football wasn’t the only thing that affected Hornby’s life, women have and will always be a constant reminder of reality (the life away from football!).
Hornby tells us that he has met women who love football, and go to watch it a number of games a season, but he’s never met one so willing as to make a trip to Plymouth in midweek. He tells us that the difference between men and women in his that men had passions and not personalities and this is why Hornby relates the main reason that his girlfriend wanted and had gone to Highbury: there wasn’t really much else of him! Hornby questions himself on how individual he is, responding with telling us of his ‘solitary and intense devotion to Arsenal,’ which makes him, himself!
Hornby, a temporary supporter of Cambridge United, was watching the game that would decide if they were to be promoted for a second year in row with his girlfriend, her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s boyfriend. During a match his girlfriend had fainted, meanwhile, Hornby did nothing apart from pray for an equaliser. Hornby complains ‘how was I supposed to get excited at the oppression of females if they couldn’t be trusted to stay upright during the final minutes of a desperately close promotion campaign?’ Yet again Hornby questions himself as an individual, complaining of his lack of sensitivity, even putting himself in situations such as becoming a father on the cup final day!
Another major part of football is its advertisement on radio or television. In The Match Hornby describes how television broadcasting had completely changed the game, saying it seemed that the TV companies had more control over the times of the game than the club did. Hornby states that this liberty takes away what football is all about, turning up in rain or shine, being a football fan! Hornby hopes that everyone is going to watch football at home so it will show how the atmosphere is less without people who are regularly turning up, for the convenience to watch it from your favourite lounge chair! This can be related to belonging in that they would take away all the privileges of being there, removing the whole ‘fan’ part of true devotion to football.
Hornby in ‘No Apology Necessary’ admits that football had meant too much to him, and had come to represent too many things. This sense of belonging to the crowd as part of the atmosphere, which affects the level of Arsenal’s performance has reached a climax, causing Hornby to ask himself how he spent so much money on seeing so many games for so many years.
In conclusion Hornby’s writing, in ways, just connects with us a bit more than other writers. He can make us feel his emotions as much as feeling our own. Devoted to football as much as we are with other things be it literature or poetry, this sense of belonging is almost second nature to us and Fever Pitch is an amazing example of how our human behaviour actually is. Human nature makes us need to belong to something, be it a club, a team or a society we all feel the need to be part of something. This book is although autobiographical a commentary on growing up and a diary of human behaviour.