After reading Nick Hornby's 'Fever Pitch' many years ago, I felt at the time that no one would ever produce a better novel of this type.Tim Parks has proved me wrong.
Unlike Hornby, Parks does not have the luxury of relying on a lifetime of childhood memories or championship triumphs for material.
Initially I asked myself, how can he write about Hellas Verona without having rheems of material on the club's scudetto (championship) winning season in 1985? Not an easy task, but one which Parks overcomes by going beyond the standard subjects addressed in the pulpable post Hornby contributions of the same genre.
The irrationality of loyalty, local rivalries and the post modern condition associated with violence, constitute standard fare for this type of book, and accordingly Parks, unlike others who have followed the same path, does not disappoint. However, the book's real strength (Mr Hornby et al, please note) is the manner in which it identifies the intracies of Italian history and contemporary life in modern calcio. This is seen, for example, in the case of the Verona supporter who ignores the Italian national team, preferring to concentrate on the exploits of the Rumanian international midfielder (Mutu) who plays for the club. The manner in which Parks does this has as much to do with the strong residual feelings of pre-unification city-state parochialism and incomplete Italian national identity, than any perceived petty fanatacism. All this substance from just one paragraph in the book!
Parks' least generous critics could argue that the book is aided by Hellas Verona's dramatic 2000-2001 season. This is not so, because these events without the analytical context provided by Parks would read like a long (and boring) chronological report. A chronology which this Reggina tiffoso, as evidenced by the book's last chapter, would not bother revisiting if there was not a broader and original tale to be told.