Author Nick Hornby is one of Arsenal's most well-known fans. His iconic memoir Fever Pitch tells the tale of his obsession with the Club, and has inspired vast numbers of people to also become fans of Arsenal, and the game of soccer itself. The novels High Fidelity and About a Boy were adapted for the big screen, helping to make Hornby one of this generation's best-known writers. Hornby's latest novel Juliet, Naked was released in September, and the film An Education, for which he wrote the screenplay, is in theaters now.
USA.Arsenal.com's Kevin Mooney caught up with Nick Hornby to talk about his books, his passion for the Club, and what he thinks of the season so far.
USA.Arsenal.com: Anytime I talk about Arsenal in the U.S., Fever Pitch very often comes up. Did you have any idea it would become a must-read for fans new to the game, especially those in America?
Nick Hornby: No, of course not! And in any case, there was very little interest in football in the U.S. when the book was first published – it really seems to have changed over the last few years.
USA.Arsenal.com: The book played a huge role in creating many dedicated Arsenal fans in the US, me included. Do you ever get tired of hearing this?
Nick Hornby: No, never. Every now and again on a book tour I end up watching an Arsenal game in a bar in the U.S. somewhere, and when I see all the Arsenal shirts I have caught myself wondering whether any of them are on those particular backs because of my book, but there’s no way of knowing, and I haven’t ever owned up to anyone I get talking to. If what you say is true, though, it’s a good feeling.
USA.Arsenal.com: How has the game changed in the 15 years-or-so since the book was published?
Nick Hornby: I think more has changed in those 15 years than in the 92 years of the 20th century that preceded publication. It’s definitely more commercial than it used to be, and there is now saturation coverage in the English media: when I was a kid, you could go weeks on end without finding a single word about the game during the summer. Now it’s the back-page headline pretty much seven days a week, unless England are winning the Ashes. Arsenal was a mostly British team when the book was published, and live league games were a relatively new phenomenon (there had never been a single live top division game on TV until I was in my late 20s).
Right near the old ground is a chip shop, and in the chip shop were pictures of old players – Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Ian Wright etc. But the amazing thing was that the pictures were all taken inside the shop, while they were collecting their takeaway cod and chips – and that was in the mid-90s! It’s hard to imagine those days coming back.
USA.Arsenal.com: You wrote the book before Arsène Wenger came to North London and Arsenal's ensuing success on the pitch. Do you think the book would have been any different had you written it 10 years later?
Nick Hornby: I think tonally it would have been pretty similar, even if it had probably ended on a high. I’m glad, though, that Arsène hadn’t arrived by the time the book was published. It would have been much more difficult to shape the book.
USA.Arsenal.com: It’s clear that Highbury was a very special place to you. What do you miss about it?
Nick Hornby: I was thinking the other day, when I was taking my six-year-old to a game, that when I started going, I was very aware of how old the ground was – that people had been pushing through those creaky old turnstiles for a long time. When I first went to Highbury, there would have been people in the ground that could remember when they’d first arrived in North London. Now my kid does what he has to do everywhere else - put a credit card into a slot until he hears the electronic beep. It’s hard to be romantic about a place like that. Maybe his kids will feel differently.
Most of all, though, I miss the trophy celebrations that soaked into the walls. The Emirates just hasn’t been a happy place yet. A few good games, sure, but nothing that’s made the stands shake.
USA.Arsenal.com: It’s been four years since Arsenal won a trophy. How big of a deal is this to you as a long-time supporter?
Nick Hornby: Not that big at all. I think the complaining is a measure of how spoiled we’ve become. When I started going they hadn’t won anything for 17 years, and there was nothing between 1971 and 1979, or ‘79 and 1987. Most teams don’t win anything most years. Why do West Ham fans buy season tickets? Or Everton fans? Because they love their team and they like getting out of the house of a weekend to watch a game. We’ve had two finals and four or five semi-finals in those four years, and one of the finals was in the Champions League, and though losing those games was disappointing, it still meant that we had something to play for at the business end of the season. In the end it’s about whether you enjoy going or not, and anyone who hasn’t enjoyed watching Arsenal in the last few years, especially at home, can’t really like football much.
USA.Arsenal.com: How often are you normally able to attend matches?
Nick Hornby: I don’t miss many. I moved to London for good in 1984, and since then I doubt I’ve missed 20 home games. A combination of a stay-at-home job and a home 10 minutes’ walk from the Emirates make it pretty easy.
USA.Arsenal.com: You’ve been quite busy for a good part of this season with a book tour for Juliet, Naked and the release of the film An Education, for which you wrote the screenplay. Have you had opportunities to see many matches this season? What do you think of the season and squad so far?
Nick Hornby: I missed the Blackburn and the Olympiacos games, but I’ve seen the rest. It’s been incredibly enjoyable, even if the fear remains that we have a glass jaw. Alan Hansen said on Match of the Day recently that he’d never seen a team more likely to concede when they were on top. It’s true, and completely maddening. But suddenly it looks like we have a squad, and a bench with both experience and talent. I still can’t see us finishing above Chelsea, but there are promising signs.
USA.Arsenal.com: Arsenal’s Charity of the Season in 2007/08 was TreeHouse, a London-based school for autistic children. What can you tell us about TreeHouse, and the kind of work the Club has done with the school and its students?
Nick Hornby: My son Danny, who is now 16, is a pupil at TreeHouse, hence my involvement. I had no idea the club would be as proactive as it was, but they were great – the kids had several visits from players and the manager, and it was the players’ idea to give up a day’s wages for the school. I was there on the day that Cesc and William Gallas visited – Matt Lucas, the comedian and actor, and I were playing football with Cesc and the kids in the playground, but neither of us let the kids have a kick. We kept passing the ball to Cesc, and making ourselves available for the return. Tragic, but predictable.
USA.Arsenal.com: We mentioned that you have a new book and new movie out now. While neither An Education‚ nor Juliet, Naked are about football, they definitely involve themes that will be familiar to your loyal readers. Why should they be on everyone’s reading/viewing list?
Nick Hornby: Well, I have to say I’m pleased with how both of them turned out, although it’s easier to talk about An Education, because it involved the work of a lot of talented people. It’s a film about a teenage girl’s affair with an unsuitable older man at the beginning of the 1960s, and our young actress Carey Mulligan is sensational. She’ll get an Oscar nomination, I think. Juliet, Naked is about love, regret, music and the Internet, and it’s in all good bookshops now.Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 4 Nov 2009