I could give a damn about formations and the offside rule and all that technical nonsense; but I've always loved football for that huge sense of people joining together and willing something to happen. I suppose it's not the game itself I love - if you could get the same effect from a tiddlywinks championship, I'd be all over that instead, I'm sure - but the way it connects people's brains. And of course, in my brain, it makes me think of writers. Two in particular.
The first is, of course, Nick Hornby. I devoured Fever Pitch when it first came out and in those early days, before the onslaught of earnest contemporary male writers, the book was astonishing for showing you the world through the prism of the fanatic. As a non-fanatic with a great love of communication and my mates, there's a segment near the beginning that I remember any time there's a major match on. Arsenal have won some significant championship (she says vaguely; half our books are in storage at the mo and I'm pretty sure Fever Pitch is not one of the chosen few hundred currently on the shelves). Hornby describes coming home and his answer phone (this being pre-mobiles) is flashing like a streaker at a cricket match, full of messages from ex-girlfriends and distant relatives and his Mum; all these people who saw the result at the end of the news and were moved to call the biggest fan they knew.
I *love* that sport can bring connection like that. And Hornby, of course, put it beautifully; which is why the book went on to be such a huge success.
The second is Roddy Doyle, who wrote an essay about Ireland's participation in the 1990 World Cup for an anthology, The Beautiful Game. The whole thing is lovely, but then near the end, he's describing David O'Leary taking a penalty kick:
'We had to score our last one....David O'Leary, a great player and a nice man...No one spoke. He placed the ball. It took him ages...the ball hit the net in a way that was gorgeous...I cried.'
Doyle goes on to ponder, wistfully, that there's nothing in his profession that captures that same emotion. Apparently O'Leary's wife, at home in Ireland, had been unable to watch her husband's penalty, so she'd gone out into the garden and their son had come running out to tell her the result. I'm paraphrasing here, but Doyle's point is, imagine that happening at the end of a novel:
'Ma, Ma! Da's after finishing the book!'