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STO Soccer Film Review: Fever Pitch

  • Editor’s Note: This review is of the 1997 film Fever Pitch, and not the 2005 Farrelly Bros. bastardization of the original, which is also unfortunately known as Fever Pitch. Do not watch the Farrelly Bros. version. It’s been known to cause blindness in mice and nightmares in anyone who gazes upon it for too long. Jimmy Fallon is in it. Seriously, it’s that bad.

Nick Hornby has had quite a remarkable run as a writer. All he does is write bestsellers. His works include About a Boy and High Fidelity, both good books which were adapted into fine films. But Hornby’s first book, Fever Pitch, is still his most famous and critically acclaimed.

Fever Pitch, the book, is autobiographical. In the book, Hornby recounts his life as a Gooner who loves the Gunners. It’s clear this man Hornby loves Arsenal more than most people love their children. In the book, he basically just riffs on Arsenal’s past and savagely mocks his own over-enthusiastic devotion to the club.

After the book was a huge success, the film industry came calling. However, the book’s narrative didn’t lend itself too well to a straight up adaption. So, Hornby fictionalized the story, threw in a little romance (for the ladies), and focused only on Arsenal’s championship season in 1988-89.

The result was a film that almost was better than the book, which is a very rare thing in cinema these days.

As for the synopsis:

Hornby’s film doppelganger, Paul (Colin Firth), is a teacher in North London who worships Arsenal. Literally. Paul not only loves Arsenal, he loves the fact that he loves them. He takes such great pride in his Gunners that he shuns the idea that his devotion to his team has spiraled into obsession.

However, a new teacher at his school, Sarah (Ruth Gemmell), captures his fancy and he decides to woo her. Unfortunately, his ability to function in a romantic relationship is stunted by his devotion to Arsenal. She tries to be a good sport and root along, but she can’t seem to understand what it is about Arsenal that Paul can’t live without.

As Arsenal’s fortunes rise and fall throughout the 1988-89 campaign, so do Paul’s chances of ending up in a healthy relationship with Sarah. His love of Arsenal threatens the stability of their relationship and she eventually presents him with a critical question: Who does he want to be with, her or Arsenal? Well, since she’s pregnant its actually her and the baby or Arsenal.

Finally, during the final, all-important game of the season against Liverpool, she comes to Paul one last time to see if he can make enough room in his life for two relationships, one with his squad and one with her. I won’t spoil the ending, but since the movie is a romantic comedy, I think you can accurately guess what happens.

The point of Fever Pitch is that our relationships with our favorite teams are really not that different than our relationships with our closest loved ones. At times, these relationships are delightful. Other times, they border on masochistic. But real love only can arise out of endless enthusiasm, undying devotion and unconditional understanding.

The film resonates with sports fans because we understand Paul. Heck, many of us are Paul. Many diehard fans live or die by their squad’s results. And the people who love one of those diehard fans, including my wife, have always questioned the wisdom of caring too much about a sport’s team.

Still today, if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose, no one speaks during dinner on Sunday night. The wounds are still too fresh. The pain is still too unbearable.

Like Paul, we true sports fans understand that it’s not “just a game”. It’s part of our lives. Heck, for some of us it’s our reason for living. Fever Pitch captures that sentiment better than any other film to date.

Fever Pitch isn’t a movie about soccer, it’s a movie about sports fans. And it’s a damn good one too. I recommend it highly.

Unless, of course, you’re a Liverpool fan.

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