Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
I became an Arsenal fan for three reasons:
1) Their multicultural players and a world-wide fan base make it easy to blend in.
2) With the Wenger years, the club encouraged true beauty and fluidity in the English game.
3) I read Fever Pitch.
There are now more valid reasons for me to be both an American and a Gooner, but Nick Hornby's words took me from the murky days of being a "supporter of the sport" to finding myself obtaining a passport and flying off to another country to experience the joy and pain of a live football match in the country where football was invented.
The book is one part autobiography, two parts sporting annual, with the respective sections blending seamlessly. Hornby explains why his parents' failed marriage helped turn him into a child who was obsessed with football and became attached to Arsenal during the 1970's and 80's.
One of the most incredible and authentic parts of the novel (written before the days of Wikipedia) is the author's recollection of intimate match details. During those days at Highbury, Hornby saw big English players and dour defensive tactics, a far cry from today's skill-based team of foreign youngsters, but all the same for its passion and tension filled atmosphere.
The players were his idols, the managers his surrogate parents and he describes the matches as symbols of his own success or failure in life, love, and everything in between.
The book is hilarious at times, particularly as Hornby describes some of his awkward teenage issues twinned with his team's equally clumsy manner of play. The football riots and firm violence of the 1980's in England is also addressed, as Hornby describes the shame he felt explaining the English traveling football fans' senseless actions to the young Italian students he was teaching at the time.
In addition to this socially aware message - the author also takes a look at the measures adopted to prevent further violence in football: namely, pricing the working class out of stadiums.
Fever Pitch is THE novel for the thinking sports fan, or anyone who can see how the microcosm of sport can occasionally help to explain many of the heartaches, headaches, happiness, and hope that are part of all of our coming of age stories.