45 pages 1 hour read

Nick Hornby

Fever Pitch

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 1992

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Summary and Study Guide


Fever Pitch (1992), an autobiographical book by British author Nick Hornby, explores Hornby’s life through his love for football (soccer in America) and with the Arsenal Football Club in particular. He discusses seminal football matches he’s attended and their relationship to his life as a whole. Fever Pitch was Hornby’s first published book; he went on to write popular fiction novels including High Fidelity, About a Boy, and A Long Way Down.

The first game Hornby covers is one from his early childhood. His parents had divorced, unusual for their part of England in that time period. He is one of only a handful of children at his school with divorced parents. Hornby’s father left to live with another woman, so he tries to bond with Hornby by taking him to his first Arsenal football game. Before the match, Hornby tries to tell his father he has no interest in football, but his father is desperate to spend time with him to try to atone for the divorce.

The match they see is 1968’s Arsenal versus Stoke in London. It changes everything for young Hornby, who quickly becomes an avid football fan. He grows obsessed with Arsenal, and it becomes the primary way he bonds with his father. Whenever Arsenal has a home game, Hornby asks his father to go. However, his obsession with the game also means he is devastated when Arsenal loses. Sometimes, his hobby brings him more unhappiness than joy.

When Hornby is a little older, his father moves out of the country, and they grow apart. After that, Hornby attends Arsenal matches with his older brother’s friend Rat. Two young boys, they can’t afford the seats Hornby once sat in with his father. Instead, they have standing-room tickets in an area called the Schoolboy’s Enclosure. Hornby uses the shift as a metaphor for growing up. He explains that in early matches, as a child, you sit in the “safe” seats with an older guardian. Then, as you gain maturity and independence, you “graduate” to the great crowded standing-room space with other young men.

After an away match when Hornby is a teenager, he realizes, on watching a replay of the match that he had been shown on camera during the game. He notices his demeanor is totally different from the people around him. He is serious and focused, while they are relaxed and enjoying themselves. Hornby realizes the extent of his obsession, and that it isn’t always fun for him. It isn’t until he is much older that he begins to let loose and have fun at a match.

Before a semifinal match in 1972, Hornby meets one of the Arsenal team’s players, Bob McNab. It’s a special moment for Hornby, but later that same year he goes through a difficult experience at the final cup match when Leeds beats Arsenal 1-0. Hornby wonders how he can put himself through such a dismal experience time after time, watching his favorite team lose.

After Hornby turns fifteen, he moves to a new section of the stands: the North Bank, along with Arsenal’s most fervent fans. However, his interest in the game is beginning to dip. His interest in football is being supplanted by a developing interest in girls. Hornby acquires his first girlfriend, Carol, who breaks up with him right before a match. Hornby spends several years not attending football games and developing other hobbies. He credits Carol with showing him life outside of football. Instead, Hornby begins to embrace reading literature, drinking, girls, and music. He wonders if his time as a football fan is over for good.

After Hornby enrolls at Cambridge University, however, he rediscovers football. He starts to attend Cambridge United games. Soon, he’s going back to London every chance he can get to go to Arsenal matches again. Meanwhile, at school, Hornby is scraping by on minimum effort. He has an idea that he’d like to write but doesn’t care to join the school’s newspaper staff. After graduation, he fears his lack of journalism experience means he’ll never get a writing job and shouldn’t try.

As Hornby is figuring out his place in the world, Arsenal loses more final cup matches. Hornby is at a low point. Not knowing what to do with his career, he enrolls in a teacher’s college. But throughout his twenties, he is depressed and directionless. Finally, he seeks a psychiatrist for help, still trying to find a career he actually likes.

Finally, in 1987, Hornby watches Arsenal defeat Tottenham in a semifinal match, and the victory makes him happy in a way he hasn’t been for a long time. This triumph lifts him out of his long-time funk. He finds a job he enjoys at a trading company. In 1989, he buys a seated ticket—not one in the standing room section. He feels like he has grown up. He has learned to relax at games and enjoy himself more. He’ll always be a football fan, but matches are no longer a matter of life and death. The highs and lows of his personal life and his love for football have often dovetailed, and now, back in the seats he sat in as a boy, he sees his life has come around again.

Fever Pitch was a bestselling book in the U.K. It won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award in 1992, and in 2012 was named a Penguin Modern Classic. In 1997, Hornby wrote the screenplay for a film adaptation of the book depicting a football fan during Arsenal’s championship year in 1988, and the sport’s effect on his love life. In 2005, a loosely-adapted American version was released starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, in which the sport was changed to baseball rather than football.