Teacher and obsessive Arsenal fan Paul falls for Sarah, but his unhealthy interest in his team threatens to drive them apart.
Imagine being a dedicated Arsenal fan. Painful, certainly, but just try. Through the 70s and 80s they watched in awe as the Reds demolished English and European football. Unfortunately for the Gunners, that colour belonged to Liverpool and the Arsenal faithful accepted the idea of being forever the bridesmaid. When they did have their moment, though, Nick Hornby was there to relish every second of it. His famous book, documenting both Arsenal's fairytale 1988/89 season and his own stress-ridden personal life, captures all the passion and stupidity of being a football fanatic. The film, which Hornby also scripted, keeps the passion but acts a touch stupid too.
Paul (Firth), an English teacher and Arsenal obsessive, meets fellow tutor Sarah (Gemmell) and a stormy relationship develops while the Gunners head for their first league title in 18 years. Paul lopes around contemplating the next home fixture while Sarah contemplates holding their relationship together. The couple look doomed - as do the Gunners - but as history shows, a touch of magic filled the air around Highbury that year.
David Evans' witty and occasionally touching film scores on many levels, not least from two wonderfully understated performances from Firth and Gemmell, but it's filmed like an intimate TV drama rather than the big screen romance it tries to ape. Hornby has embellished the script with plenty of male truisms, and there's also a fair whack of female skill, but the animalistic fever behind the book has been projected into a mild-mannered, faintly passionate comedy.
Despite cross 70s flashbacks where a Mecca-like Arsenal ground becomes a sanctuary from the young Paul's divorcing parents, Fever Pitch peaks when Firth explains the universal appeal of football to a sceptical Gemmell, a theme which implodes in the wake of the Hillsborough tragedy, which the film expertly handles. The minuscule budget may stretch the terrace-crowd sequences, but the action really kicks off in the bedroom and the classroom, where Hornby's wit is razor-sharp.
While the grand finale slips into brash pantomime, with obligatory run-to-my-lover scene, this proves that behind every romantic fool lies a crazy football fanatic waiting to score.