Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Nick Hornby: 'People say my book sold football to the middle classes. I disagree'
'Fever Pitch' author Nick Hornby reflects on the ways in which he, football and society itself have changed in the 20 years since his hit memoir was first published
Life's a pitch: Twenty years that changed football forever, by Nick Hornby Arsenal fan Illustration by Wesley Merritt
Author Nick Hornby (right) at Highbury with former Arsenal striker Alan SmithPhoto: Phil Shephard-Lewis
By Nick Hornby
The Telegraph - 17 Aug 2012
In February 2011 – February 27, to be precise, at around 5.50pm – my team, Arsenal, conceded a goal in the last minute of a cup final at Wembley against Birmingham City, and, as a consequence, lost the game. I watched as the Birmingham fans at the other end of the stadium exploded with joy, a joy made even sweeter by disbelief: Birmingham were on the verge of relegation, and Arsenal had been expected to beat them comfortably.
I, and other Arsenal fans of a certain age, had been there before: I have seen my team lose to Swindon Town of the Third Division, and scrappy little Luton, and Second Division West Ham, all games I described in my book Fever Pitch. So my younger selves would not have been surprised by the unfortunate turn of events, nor by my despair, although they may well have been disappointed that there was no 21st–century invention or law preventing this sort of thing.
The 11 year–old who watched Arsenal lose to Swindon would have been baffled by many aspects of that Birmingham game, however; indeed, the 34 year–old who wrote Fever Pitch would have needed a few explanations, too. For example: City's opening goal came off the head of a giant Serb, before a Dutchman equalised for Arsenal. A Nigerian borrowed from a Russian club scored the winner, after a ludicrous defensive mix–up between a Frenchman and a Pole. Who were these people? What were they doing playing in an English domestic competition at Wembley? And why was I paying nearly 90 quid to watch them?
English football has changed since Fever Pitch was published in 1992. Indeed, more has happened in the last 20 years than in the previous 70 or 80. The game has got faster and better, and the players are fitter and more accomplished. Our stadiums are mostly safe, but tickets are ruinously expensive and much harder to come by, and crowds are consequently older, and quieter. Just about everyone who has ever played in the Premier League over the last decade is a multimillionaire, by definition, but in the early Nineties, England's most gifted player, Paul Gascoigne, was playing in the richer and infinitely more glamorous Italian league. Both the lira and its lure are now gone. If you subscribe to a cable sports channel, you can see two or three games a day, games taking place all over Europe. It's easier to watch a Premier League game on TV in New York City or the Canary Islands than it is in London, and you can talk to someone in any bar in the world about Arsène Wenger's apparent stubbornness in the transfer market. My previously dour and unlovable team suddenly became a byword for aesthetic perfection, and enjoyed possibly the greatest period of its history; for a few bewildering years, between 1997 and 2006, I could watch several of the best players in the world every other Saturday.
Most of these changes can be traced back to one event, the Hillsborough disaster, and to one man, Rupert Murdoch. After Hillsborough there was a general recognition that something needed to be done – that the enormous, crumbling concrete terraces weren't safe, that an afternoon's entertainment should not carry with it the threat of injury or even death. And Murdoch saw that his TV network would become indispensable to huge swathes of the population if he bought the rights to the most popular sport in the world. He flooded the game with money, foreign stars turned up in their hundreds, and the clubs jacked up their season ticket prices to pay the newly astonishing wage bills. Full story at The Telegraph