An Incurable Fever

Thorne Kieffer, age 16

The definition of a fever is “a high body temperature, usually accompanied by shivering, headache, and sometimes, delirium.” In his entertaining memoir, “Fever Pitch,” Nick Hornby offers a history of his fever for soccer and his love for his home team Arsenal. It’s a fever that runs so strong it becomes the lens through which Hornby examines his whole life.

“Fever Pitch” is an action-packed narrative, perfect for the avid soccer fan, but a love for sports is not a requisite to enjoying this book. One may not understand every nuanced soccer term Hornby mentions, but that won’t take away from the visceral impact of going to hundreds of soccer games with the author at Highbury Stadium in North London.

Each chapter takes us to a different Arsenal game where Hornby lives through the victories and defeats and provides a running commentary of his concurrent emotional state. He shows us his elation after every big Arsenal victory. Hornby’s perfect day is comprised of, “A 2-0 home victory against the League leaders after a fish-and-chip-lunch.” In 1979 Arsenal makes it to the Cup Final for the second year in row only to lose again, which plunges Hornby into an almost debilitating slump: “I hated Arsenal. The club was a burden I could no longer carry but one that I would never, ever be able to throw off.” Hornby is so invested in Arsenal that, “Arsenal’s moods and fortunes somehow reflected (his) own.” His emotions are dangerously tethered to the successes and failures of his team.

As a subtheme, Hornby provides the reader a wonderful sense of the fierce camaraderie between British soccer fans. His writing is extremely detailed and vivid, so when he takes us to rowdy away games on Wednesday nights, the reader feels they are sitting in the seat beside him. The reader sees fans risk their lives in intense brawls in small British stadiums, where fevered fans just like him scream their lungs out as if they were on the team themselves. One witnesses how English soccer is more than just a sport, it’s a way for people to escape their daily lives and feel emotions on a greater scale. Soccer gives Hornby and his friends a greater sense of hope for their everyday lives.

Although his detailed descriptions of each game are gripping from a soccer standpoint, it is the way Hornby delves into his fluctuating emotions that makes this book a great read. In the end, this memoir is a sensitive description of a young boy’s coming-of-age during his years of fevered devotion to soccer. Hornby grows up through soccer in these pages, and it’s his poignant and growing self-awareness that keeps us reading.