I have just finished reading Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. To those who don’t know, Fever Pitch is about Nick’s obsession with Arsenal. For those who don’t know what Arsenal is: nothing to see here, please move along, folks. I haven’t read of a lot of football literature, but as an Arsenal fan, it gave me a peephole into a world long since gone: the world when Arsenal were the equivalent of Stoke City of the last few seasons - the ogres of football. No, honestly. The way Nick described Arsenal and the Highbury crowd reminds me of the Potters in every way - the siege mentality, the general dislike from other fans, the media, the shit football…
Me, I started following Arsenal in 2006, with that Champions League final. I had started staying up late during my Std 10 exams, and had kept the habit. :) On one such late night, while channel surfing, I came up on a live match. There was some ruckus going on. I had some idea of football, since I had watched the ‘98 World Cup and the ‘04 Euro (Greece won?). Apparently the keeper had been sent off, no penalty, though. I started it too late and didn’t get to see the replay of the foul. At that time I didn’t know who Pires was, so I didn’t get the full import of him being subbed. I did know who Henry was, though. :)
Even so, my memory gets a bit hazy here: I know that ten minutes later Campbell scored and then around 80’ Barca equalised, and then later took the lead and won. The way I remember it, Arsenal almost immediately scored (‘10 men Arsenal take the lead!’) and the underdogs (to me, and hence I supported them - well, that and Henry) kept on gamely trying. To me it seemed that Henry was a lone fella trying to do the best he can up front, without much support. And then late in to the match they scored twice in quick succession. Damn. Since then I have followed Arsenal, first by keeping an eye on the papers for news of them, and then in IITG, by watching them regularly.
Anyway, I digress. I intended to talk about the books. After reading Fever Pitch, I felt that the best follow-up would be reading Richard Sanders’ Beastly Fury: The Strange Birth of British Football once again. In many ways, Beastly Fury mirrors Fever Pitch. Nick is a fan of The Arsenal, Richard a fan of the enemy, Tottenham Hotspur. Nick’s book is an intimately personal one, it’s about him and Arsenal. Richard’s book is about football itself, it is impersonal. It’s very interesting, getting to know the early history of football. For example, I always thought the offside law was some reaction to stop players from loitering near the goal, and the change from requiring three defenders between you and the goal to two was meant to help attacking football. I was correct about the latter, but about the former, not so much.
Or things like why Chapman and his WM revolutionized things so much. I knew that the first international was played with 9 forwards on one side and 8 forwards on the other. But then you read about people considering passing “unmanly”. Why Roog-by (:P) has Roogby league and Roogby union. An anecdote in the book: Alfred Lyttelton’s mother complains to Charles Alcock that she’s afraid one day Lyttelton will come home with a broken leg. Alcock reassures her that if he does, it won’t be his own. And I had always assumed that an amateur was someone who wasn’t good enough, as compared to a professional. I hadn’t thought that professional had more to do with profession than with being good, despite being a programmer - and that is one field where many amateurs are a sight better than many “professionals”. The original football clubs - they were all amateur.
Footballers’ wages - back then people were amazed at footballers being paid a few pounds a week (the average earnings of a skilled worker then) and now we are amazed at footballers earning a ten thousand times what most people are paid. It also shows how some things remain the same, no matter how much other things change. The first keeper to Preston North End was racially abused in the press as soon as his form dipped. People only died playing Rugby. So of course a few career-ending tackles in football is okay.
Hmmm… After my second time through Beastly Fury, assuming Stillness and Speed is delivered soon, I’d be reading my next football book. And hopefully by then the hostel field will be in a condition fit for play. And I’ll be playing kick-and-rush again. :)