I have a lot of feelings about this book. I am pretty fanatical about my alma mater’s American football team and as a direct result, parts of this book felt a bit too real. The way that Hornby is able to describe the relationship one has with a team is truly beautiful. In the intro alone (which I forwarded to several of my friends who are not huge readers) he really delves into the emotions involved with a crushing defeat. He goes in with the opinion that to a degree, to be this big of a fan you have to be somewhat depraved and then goes on to show how this fandom is both the largest blessing and curse of his life.
First of all, his point about being somewhat literary and therefore often times making metaphorical connections between his team’s performance and his life rang incredibly true to me. Much like Hornby, I can often times take what I see from a performance of my team as grand analogy to my own life at the time. We are losing every game despite looking like a good team in the preseason? That’s my senior year where I was poised to glide through the last semester and finish early, but for whatever various outside reasons was a non-starter. We pull together an amazing season despite having no reason to do so? It’s the year I am living with my wife for the first time, I’m beginning to feel comfortable at my job, and just generally feel like I can deal with the things life throws my way. Hornby points all this out and does so through some comic, some serious, and some heart-wrenching examples from his own life.
The other thing I think this book does incredibly well is give a glimpse into football (soccer) culture in England particularly in the 70s and 80s when the majority of these events take place. I do also quite enjoy soccer and the English Premier League is my league of choice so being able to learn a bit more about the atmosphere in grounds at this time was fascinating. Besides that, it is wonderful to get the perspective of someone who had some of the traits that often lead to hooliganism, but for a variety of reasons was not a hooligan himself, and his reflection on these rougher fans as he grew older and distanced himself from them entirely. There is a lot of interesting commentary on class and race, which was a pleasant surprise for me. Finally, being able to hear about a football nuts opinions on Heysel and Hillsborough thinking back to when they happened was absolutely incredible and a perspective that has been missing from most of the other coverage I have seen on these tragedies.
My only issue with this book at all is that it was occasionally a slog to get through. The format of each section being a game was really cool in terms of driving home just how obsessed he is, but it made it a bit daunting and disorienting at times when reading.
Fair warning: If you expect this book to be anything like the films by the same name prepare to be disappointed.