A great book is a great book, no matter the subject. So
why do sports books often get such a bad name? Sports editor
Hayden Meikle hands over to Arsenal fan Nigel Benson for this
Sample: ''I fell in love with football as I was later
to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably,
uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it
would bring with it.''
The setting: England, particularly London, and
Arsenal's home ground of Highbury in the 1970s and 1980s.
The protagonists: George Graham, Liam Brady, Charlie
Nicholas, David Rocastle and assorted other football (mainly
Arsenal) figures, as seen through the devoted fan's eyes of
Why it is brilliant: Handing you over to lifelong
Arsenal fan Nigel Benson: ''Fever Pitch was probably
the first book to unite tribal and irreconcilable football
fans. It is so laced with adolescent pathos and
self-deprecating irony that it encourages reflection of one's
own life obsessions.
'I knew when I was 11 that I would never play for Arsenal,'
'Eleven is too young to know something as awful as that.'
Fever Pitch tells the story of Hornby's life-long love
affair with God's Club and the glory of football.
'I love the pace of it, its lack of formula; and I love the
way that small men can destroy big men - in a way that they
can't in other contact sports, and the way that the best team
does not necessarily win.'
And there is redemption for anyone, like me, for example, who
has already experienced the best moment of their whole life.
Say, May 26, 1989, at Anfield.
'Be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their
best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad
and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller,
and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.'
Don't just take my (er, Nigel's) word for it: ''Good
books about football can be counted on the teeth of Nobby
Stiles' upper jaw. Fever Pitch is a small classic.''
- Michael Palin.
The aftermath: Fever Pitch was made into a
(very good) football movie starring Colin Firth, and a (very
average) baseball movie starring Drew Barrymore. Hornby
cranked out a series of fine books about various topics.
Arsenal had a glorious era under Arsene Wenger but recent
seasons have been a little lean.