Many of you may have already seen this movie, or read the book on which it was based. I recently re-watched Fever Pitch again for the first time in a few years. It’s a movie that, at the heart of it, tells the story of the childlike enthusiasm the protagonist has for Arsenal. The movie is an adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name, intertwining the love life of the main character with the 88-89 season that culminated in Arsenal’s first championship in 28 years.
As a native Floridian with no childhood ties to British soccer, I can’t identify with a great deal of the specific English circumstances in the film. As a child raised to follow and love the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I can identify with a great deal of the movie’s sentiment. At this point, it is well documented that my Bucs lost their first 26 games in the NFL, and had very little success until Head Coach Tony Dungy’s arrival in 1996. Fever Pitch captures the feelings of despair that only long suffering fans of losing teams can understand. Much of the film is spent following Colin Firth’s prickly Paul Ashworth through his life as a teacher and youth soccer coach. The overblown importance of each loss, and the utter despair of supporting a team that cannot deliver a championship take a toll on his mental health and romantic relationship. At one point in the film, Paul misses out on a promotion at work, but is considerably more upset by Arsenal’s late season loss to Derby County. It’s only understandable that the American remake was based on the Boston Red Sox, who until 2004, had not won the World Series since 1918.
The film handles the Hillsborough disaster well, playing the manic ending of the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” while going back and forth between crowd shots of Paul as a teen, and with his new girlfriend on the terraces at Highbury. The rush forward of the crowd, mixed with the fast paced song and quick directorial cuts impart the sense of danger that ultimately manifested itself at Hillsborough.
Fever Pitch reminds me a great deal of High Fidelity, also based on a Nick Hornby autobiographical novel. They each deal with a main character (based on Nick), whose emotional development is arrested, at best. Both protagonists ultimately mature just a little in the end. Enough to qualify each movie to be called a romantic comedy, but with subject matter interesting enough to keep red-blooded males interested.
The film ends on the final day of the season, with Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Liverpool at Anfield. Paul and his girlfriend dance in the streets around Highbury while Van Morrison’s eternally upbeat, “Bright Side of the Road” plays in the background.
If you haven’t seen it and are a fan of the premier league, I highly recommend giving it a look.