The last two books I’ve read had something to do with football as the religion of two men, supporting two different clubs and undergoing through two different journeys: Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch: A Fan’s Life” and Brian Reade’s “44 Years with the Same Bird: A Liverpudlian Love Affair”.
Both books provide much depth and insight in the thoughts and lives of men who began as young supporters of their respective clubs—how such support formed a boy’s identity, how it has shaped and deepened relationships, how each man related to football in view of hooliganism and disasters such as Heysel and Hillborough, and how every victory and defeat were remembered in painstaking detail, serving as a signpost for key events in each man’s life.
Nick Hornby detailed the triumphs and tribulations of being an Arsenal fan through a series of essays that marked the club’s matches. Brian Reade gave an intimate look on what it meant to be a lifelong Liverpool supporter (including forging a relationship with his son) in a series of chapters that marked key developments in the club’s history. Interestingly, both men gave accounts on opposite ends of the spectrum over a few commonalities, such as the 1971 FA Cup Final contested by Arsenal and Liverpool (Arsenal won 2-1).
I do consider myself a fan of Nick Hornby, after reading “High Fidelity”, wherein he details a passion for music, as reflected by the protagonist. That said, “Fever Pitch” has the same pained, passionate tone, this time for Arsenal. I suppose there’s something inherently tortured in Hornby’s writing, and one can feel the intensity of his tribulations as an Arsenal supporter.
On the other hand, I do feel greater empathy for Brian Reade, largely because of two things: 1) he isn’t tortured/pained/masochistic; and 2) it is Liverpool, after all. What I love about Reade’s book is there is such joy in supporting Liverpool, despite defeats and tragedies such as Heysel and Hillsborough. He shares a lesser known angle about Heysel, and there is much rawness when he wrote about Hillsborough, which easily felt as though the tragic events on April 15, 1989 could have been relived through the eyes of someone that was actually there.
Yet, I go back to the joy of supporting Liverpool. If there was anything missing in “Red Men”, which details the history of the club, it was the heart of what it meant to be a supporter of Liverpool—to live through the glorious nights in Rome and Istanbul, to stand at the Kop End, to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and truly understand what the words mean.
One of the things that I find interesting, which is a common thread in both books, is the degree of emotional investments that a boyhood supporter puts into his football club. It is quite a journey that is inextricably bound to the club’s history and performance. It could serve as a warning, but there’s greater merit in reading these books from cover to cover to understand what a supporter means.
Cross-posted to Communique.