Monday, 29 August 2011


This book is brilliant for rugby union lovers.

Football has always been a big part of my life. Like millions of us, I can mark my life's history by what was happening in the world of football. In fact, if I want to remember a year, that's often what I resort to.

I remember that my mum died in 1992 when Leeds United had just become champions.

I know Leeds lost 5-1 to Portsmouth the day after my daughter was born.

The day I met my wife Leeds won 3-1 at Liverpool.

It was the photos in this book that made me realise rugby may have a similar role to play. Sometimes when you look at an image it takes you back. This book did that.

Bill Beaumont shaking hands with JPR Williams was the main one. As soon as I saw it, there I was in my grandad's flat in North Yorkshire, watching the Five Nations. We watched loads of live sport together. But he died twenty years ago and I forget him for weeks at a time. This book brought him back.

The face of Gareth Edwards lining up to play England in that amazing Welsh team.

Oh yes, and Martin Johnson lifting the Webb Ellis trophy. I watched that with my daughter - aged two weeks - on my knee. She was born a month early and only opened her eyes for twenty minutes each day for the first month. She opened her eyes for that.

But the pictures throughout this book are amazing. A huge amount of research and thought has been put into the pictures. And it pays off.

The text is good too. It focuses on key players and the last six decades, with particular emphasis on the changes in the game around professionalism. I learned a lot about rugby union that I never knew. On a par with Geoffrey Moorhouse's magnificent history of Rugby League.

I can't think of a better Christmas present than this book for a rugby union fan - apart from their team winning the World Cup.

International Rugby Union by Peter Bills is published by Carlton and its list price is £25, but I expect it'll be in bookshop and online offers in September.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

WORLD CUP RUGBY BOOK REVIEWS 2: Rugby Stories for Children

There are three rugby stories for children that I can find - and I am the only one in the world who has read all three. Probably. The main reason for that is that I wrote the one called Scrum! and it is not out for another month, so no-one has read it yet.

I read The Rugby Zombies by Dan Anthony (Pont £5.99) after I saw a copy in Swansea Library. It's about a boy called Arwel and his two friends, who, daring each other in the woods, come across a group of zombies of former rugby players. There is horror (in the woods), sport (on the pitch) and friendship (on the back streets of the town where the boys live). It's got a bit of everything, including it's a nice short- to medium-length.

The Rugby Zombies is published by an independent publisher in Wales, but would be great for all fans of rugby, including rugby league.

It is a long time since I read The Flea Thing by Brian Falkner (Walker Books, £5.99). It was a library book, so I don't have it any more. But I can remember thinking it was really good. This is what I remember.

It's about a boy who has extraordinary pace on the rugby field. When he gets the ball he can really fly down the wing and he goes from being an ordinary player to a child star in a professional team. But it also about the boy and his dad and his friends and who they relate to each other as he becomes successsful.

It is set in new Zealand and is - if I remember right - about Rugby League, not Union. Either way, it's excellent. Welll written. Great story. Thoroughly recommended.

My book is called Scrum! (Barrington Stoke £5.99). It is about Rugby League and Union.

Steven Webb is a Rugby League player who lives in northern England with his mum. His dad, who lives nearby, has always wanted him to play Rugby League. But his mum meets a new man and moves Steven to Northamptonshire, where they only play Union.

Steven now has three dilemmas: Rugby League or Union, Dad or Step Dad, north v south.

Friday, 26 August 2011

RUGBY WORLD CUP book review # 1

This is the first of a series of rugby book reviews in the run-up to Rugby World Cup 2011, which runs from 9th September to 23rd October.

The Official Guide to RWC 2011 is very good. It's just what you need on the table by your armchair as you settle down to watch 48 games of rugby union over 45 days.

Like most official guides it contains the following sections, written in clear and concise English:

* a bit about New Zealand (in case you can actually afford to go an see the tournament)

* the road to the World Cup - how teams qualified

* a run down on all the teams, in pool order
(pools are the groups the teams are in during the early stages of the tournament)

* some great rugby world cup moments

* the possible star players

* a double page spread on each of the six tournaments since the first in 1987

* some frankly fascinating stats and facts for you to run through during the ad breaks, as the whole tournament is on ITV

That's what's in it. But what is it like?

It's not long-winded, but it has lots of interesting information.

The mix of text and pictures is well done and looks exciting.

It can be read as a need-to-know reference book or as a linear read.

It includes some unforgettable moments, including Mandela handing the Springbok captain the trophy in 1995 and Johhny Wilkinson's 2003 drop goal.

And... and it has a score chart to fill in!

That's it. It's very good. Full stop.

The Official Guide to the 2011 Rugby World Cup is published by Carlton Books.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Adults should read Mal Peet

I read Anthony Clavane's Guardian Top Ten of Football Fiction this morning.

He includes A Kestel for a Knave, Goalkeepers are Different, Football Factory and others. Even the mighty
B S Johnson. Some great books.

But let's be honest: there's not a lot of decent football fiction around now - and there never has been.

That's why Anthony's list is a bit thin. If he had to do a second XI list, he'd be struggling.

The Damned United is the only stand out well-known novel about the beautiful game in recent years.

Or is it?

Now, don't get me wrong. I like Anthony. We're friends. We share a lot: football team (Leeds United), literary agent, a love of Tony Harrison's poems. His book - Promised Land - is a good read.

But what about children's books? Or Young Adult fiction?

This is not me trying to get my books in Anthony's list. His is clearly a list for adults. And I'm not the one to say mine would even get on a kids' top ten. There are plenty of great writers in the genre.

But I think Mal Peet's three football books - Keeper, Penalty and Exposure - are better than all the books on Anthony's list.

They are beautifully written, complex, and deeply moving. They include themes such as deforestation, ghosts, magic and celebrity meglomanic. And they are about football.

But not football in the sense of just kicking a ball around. They are about how players cope with fame, about what journalists have to do to get a story, about how some players can be very vulnerable and how fans fit into the picture. They chart the human condition superbly.

I think it is to do with classification. If a book is called a children's book or a Young Adult book, most adults would not consider it.

If you know an adult football fan, get them Keeper or Exposure. Football fiction at its best.

Anthony Clavane's list of ten great football fictions

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


I am working with Wrexham Football Club in the autumn on a scheme that will reach 360 chldren from 12 schools.

I have worked on sports literacy schemes for over a decade, most notbaly on the Premier League Reading Stars scheme for the last eight years. I also have a lot of free resources about football and literacy available on my website.

But Wrexham is new for me. It's a term-long scheme that will reach each of the children seven times.

Here is what we're going to do.


Over two days in September, each school will come to Wrexham's Racecourse Ground. They will spend a half day at the stadium, enjoying three sessions:

* taking part in my Football Reading Game, a literacy quiz that features a penalty shoot out
* a training session with Wrexham FC coaches
* a tour of the Racecourse Ground and talk about its history

The children will come in on buses, all covered by the project.


I have devised a five-part course of sessions the children can do back at their schools in October and November. The five sessions are:

* reading football in newspapers and writing their own articles
* looking at biograhies of football players and creating their own of their favourite player
* a reading group looking at one of my books, or one of the free stories I have on my website
* a trip to Wrexham Library to meet librarians and do the Football Reading Library Treasure Hunt (coaches paid for by the scheme)
* creating posters and activities to encourage the children taking part to enthuse other children at the school to read and write about football


A session for all twelve schools with a panel of football reading experts, including:

* a Wrexham AFC player
* a well known Wrexham related journalist
* a football story author (me again)

We are doing this because we want to find ways of encouraging football fans to become excited about reading around the game. Also, with the hope that they become more involved with their local club in a place that is dangerously close to Manchester and Liverpool; and at a time that Wrexham FC is in a perilous state.

The money for the scheme has come from a bid Wrexham FC applied for to run educational schemes.

All the free resourcues mentioned above can be found on my website.

Family Reading at its Best

I had a message from a football fan called Austin this week.

He'd read my blog about using football to encourage children to read.

This is what three generations of his family do every week.

(The photo is not of Austin, but one I took off the internet.)

"Every Saturday morning I sit down with my son and we read the football section in the newspaper. We then attempt to predict the results of the weekend's games in the Premier League. A correct score is worth 5 points, a correct result 3 points.

"Grandad sends us his predictions as well.

"We put £1 in the pot each week. (I put my son's in.) And we keep a spreadsheet of the results and points.

"The winner is the one with the most points at the end of the season."

I thought it sounded brilliant, so I wanted to share it.

For your information: Austin's son is in the lead so far.

Sunday, 14 August 2011


This is the tenth and final blog about using the excitement around the new football season to encourage children to read.

The last tip is to start watching the new weekly show: THE FOOTBALL READING SHOW.

The first one is a bit shaky, but in future weeks I'll take you on a tour of reading in bookshops, libraries and football stadia, as well as introducing you to footballers, authors and lots of readers.

Thanks for reading these blogs and for the nice responses.

Saturday, 13 August 2011


I did an event with Waterstone's in Altrincham today: to mark the start of the new Premier League football season.

We wanted to get football-loving families into the bookshop to see all the fantastic football books for kids - and adults.

We set up a goal outside the bookshop, to the left of the front door. Then we put an eager bookseller in goal.

Then we invited passing children to take five penalties. The child who scored most in one hour won a football trophy. In fact, it was two children, as we had under-ten and ten-plus categories.

There was a queue of families for the whole hour.

When the kids had taken penalties, I handed out promotional red and yellow cards and told the about my books. Meanwhile two members of staff told families about the other sports books available in store.

Most of the families went into the bookshop and lots of them bought copies of my book.

Including books sold because of the in-store and window displays, the event led to sales of at least 30 books. The signed copies I left will probably sell well too.

Thanks to Altrincham Waterstone's for a great morning.

While there I made a film about football books in the shop. If it's a decent quality it'll be on YouTube soon.

Friday, 12 August 2011


This is the ninth in a series of ten blogs about things you can do with children, both to celebrate the new football season and to encourage them to read for pleasure and meaning.

It's the first day of the Premier League. Now, at last, all football is back in our hearts, on our screens and in the newspapers.

Saturday newspapers are the best. They might not have match reports in, but they will have:

* match previews for all the games

* predictions for the season that could be way off the mark or spot on

* news about players agitating to leave football clubs

* true transfer stories - Fabregas, for instance

* columns by ex-footballers

* lists

* charts

* photos

* and lots of lies

If you can afford to go out and buy two or three newspapers and leave them around the house, they'll be a great way of getting children into reading before the big kick off.

If not, try your library, where most have free newspapers for all to read.

Or, go online, where you can read most newspapers articles and speculation for free.

Have a good day and a great season. I hope your team does well... unless you're playing Leeds United, in which case - no offence - but I hope you lose.


This is the eighth of ten blogs about finding ways to encourage children to read, using the power of football. All to celebrate the new football season. Hurray!

We all do it.

Who do you think is going to win the match today?

Who's going to score for this team or that team?

Which Premier League manager is going to get sacked first?

Children enjoy doing it as much as adults. Predictions! And that makes it a powerful tool to encourage them to read more.

Here's how?

Why not make a list of ten things you and a child would like to predict - such as the results or scores or matches, goalscorers, attendances, sending offs? Decide together what you are going to predict. Every correct prediction gains the person who made it one point.

Then suggest that everyone taking part has a look on the internet or in newspapers to help them make their choices.

Reading about the game can help hugely. You can find out the form of the teams in question, who is injured and other factors.

The BBC football website is good for this. They do a preview on each game, helping you work out who is playing and who is not and what teams' recent form is.

Also, club websites can be helpful to give you an idea of which team is feeling the more confident.

Maybe offer a prize or incentive if your child beats you. maybe involve other family members, friends or children.

Worth a try.

Rugby World Cup

There is less than a month to go until the Rugby World Cup kicks off. And I, like millions, am really looking forward to it.

I watched the 2003 final in the attic of our house, with my daughter on my knee. She was two weeks old and weighed less than a rugby ball at the time. I can't remember how I celebrated that winning kick, but I imagine I was quite restrained.

I am even more excited about the 2011 World Cup because I'm going to be doing a lot of work to use the interest in rugby to promote reading to young people across the UK.

This is what's going on:

* I have written a toolkit of rugby related literacy ideas for the National Literacy Trust. It is free. Available here.

* I will be surveying books, magazines, newspapers and websites for the best rugby reading from now until the end of the tournament, tweeting about everything I find at @worldcupreader. Please follow me if you're interested.

* I am touring schools and book festivals to play my Rugby Reading Game (rugby reading quiz followed by a goal kicking competition) in September and October. Most events re in schools, but the public events include:

Bath Children Book Festival - 24 september

Ilkley Literature Festival - 2 October

Beverley Literature Fesitval - 8 October

Manchester Literature Festival - 16 October

* and, my new rugby book Scrum! - details here - is out in October, published by Barrington Stoke.

If anyone has anything else going on based on reading and writing about the world cup, please let me know.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


This is the seventh in a series of ten blogs about using a child's love of football to encourage them to enjoy reading more.

Some children prefer to play football than read books.

Let's face it.

In fact, when I was a child - and some - I played football for about ten to fifteen hours a week. More in the holidays. Much more time than I spent reading.

Children play football because they like it and because they want to get better at it.

Today's blog is to do with books about how to play football.

I go into a lot of libraries. I must have visited at least 500 in the UK to speak about my books. Maybe more. In every one I get some football books off the shelves to show to the children I speak to. Biographies. Fiction. Histories. And... books on how to play.

Most libraries have at least three, often ten or more, of these books. They can be found in the children's sport section. They are simple and clear with lots of images of:

* how to be a better player

* how to be fit for football

* tactics on defending, attacking, etc.

* how to do tricks

The books are often full of exercises and drills that could help a child to vastly improve their skills.

So why not get one of the books out and go to do some of the drills with your child - and their friends? It could be a good way of imporving their football skills.

Then give them the book that evening to see if they want to read some more tips about what you could do the next day.

There are some great books. Usbourne do some great ones in particular.

Good luck.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011



This is the sixth in a series of ten blogs about using the new football season to encourage your children to read.

Twitter is a great way to read about football.

Yes, each chunk of reading is under 140 characters long, but Twitter often spurs you on to read articles or more Tweets.

Today's idea is to encourage your children to follow footballers on Twitter. Do any of their favourite team's players Tweet?

You can find out intersting things like:

* big football stories before they make it into the mainstream media

* what the player things about transfer rumours

* how they feel before the game - and after

* what they are interested in: what newspapers and books they read, what bands they like

* arguments they are having with journalists

* and a lot more

You can follow Tweeting Players at or via smart phone devices.

Bear in mind that some footballers swear and say controversial things that you might not want younger (or even older) children to read about. To solve this you could choose footballers who are cleaner - or edit out any of the more risque tweets.

Here are some players you can follow:

@rioferdy5 - Rio Ferdinand - lots of great stuff about being a player and family life, with occassional olitical remarks, largely clean

@WayneRooney - passionate remarks, occassionally includes something you'd not want kids to read, but worth editing

@JackWilshire - clean remarks about the football world

@RobbieSavage8 - edgy stuff with occassional rewtweets of abuse he's had, so watch it

You can search for more players online, narrowing to players from your favourite team.

With thanks to @DanFreedman99 for advice in putting this list together. Dan writes the Jamie Johnson football books, that are hugely popular with children. If you follow him on Twitter too, you can see a list of several players he recommends if you look back a couple of days on his Twitter feed.

This might be something that won't last forever, so have a go. Many football teams are banning their players from Tweeting. I am a Leeds fan and used to follow seven or eight Leeds players. Now that's gone, because they have been banned. One of our players - Davide Somma - tweeted about his serious injury before the club had released the information, so all the players were stopped.

It's a shame I was enjoying it.

Sunday, 7 August 2011


This is the fifth in a series of ten blogs about using the new football season to inspire children to read more for pleasure.


This week is one of the best weeks in the year for reading about football in the newspapers.

These are some of the things you can expect to read about in the next six days:

* outrageous transfer speculation about major players going to major clubs

* players making ridiculous claims about how well they are going to do this season

* players doing 'exclusive' interviews to try and get a move from one club to another

* a manager of a high-profile club resigning 48 hours before the season starts

* so-called experts making predictions about who is going to win what and who is going to get relegated (worth keeping these to see how they do)

* and, unless I am very much mistaken, on Thursday there will be a loud howl for Fabio Capello to be sacked.

This is just the start. There will also be pull outs and previews in most of the papers, including lists and statistics and all sorts of other nonsense.


Newspapers are not free, though. You might not be able to afford to buy a newspaper every day. So here are some tips on reading newspapers for free.

1. go to the public library, where they are free

2. get the Metro newspaper or other free papers (if you have them in your area)

3. read newspapers online - most are free (if you have internet access... and if not, they have that at the library too)

4. find one on a train or a bus that someone has left behind

5. stand in a supermaket for an hour, reading all the papers

I hope you have a good time reading the papers.


This is the fourth in a set of ten tips on how to encourage children to get into reading through their love of football - to celebrate the new season.

Fantasy Football could be the way to get your children into reading more about football. It might encourage them to read more in newspapers and online in particular.

If you don't know what it is, Fantasy Football is a game you can play in newspapers and on some websites, where you pick a team using all the players in the Premier League.

Then, as the season unfolds, you gain or lose points from your players' performances: how many goals they score, or their team concedes; if they set up a goal or get sent off.

You can transfer players throughout the season.

Most people play it in leagues, pitting their football expertise against friends and workmates.

So why not do it with your kids? Or even with their friends and other parents?

It's fun and it makes Match of the Day more interesting.

The reading bit is... to make sure you know who the best players are to sign for your team or to make sure you know who is injured or on international duty, you need to read match previews and reports in the newspapers or online.

If you don't read up on it, you lose.

That's the idea.

You can set up a league on various websites. The most popular are the Daily Telegraph and the Sun, but there are several more to choose from.

To read the newspapers, if you can;t afford to buy a paper every day, try the newspapers websites, like the Mirror. Or go to the library where you can read newspapers for free.

And if you win a national competition, you can win LOTS of money. But you probably won't...

Saturday, 6 August 2011


This is the third of ten blogs about using the excitement around the forthcoming football season to encourage children to read about the game in books, newpapers, online and - today - in magazines.

One per day in the run up to the Premier League kick off.

If you're going to pay the £2.50 to £4.50 the football magazines cost, today might be the best day to do it.

As you can see, they are full of previews about the season. In fact, a lot of them have free wall charts and supplements, so you will get better value for money.

These are the main magazines available in the UK:

Match - a great mixture of pictures and short text, largely about the Premier League. Great for reluctant readers.

Match of the Day - a lot like Match, but even more popular with children. Great content for reluctant readers.

Kick - as above, but more posters than text.

FourFourTwo - glossy football magazine aimed at teenagers and adults. Great articles and fancy photography.

World Soccer - about football across the world. Not good for a struggling reader. Quite political. Brilliant for authors writing about the game.

WSC - stands for When Saturday Comes is like Private Eye for football fans. Really good and interesting. Again not one for reluctant readers or under 13s.

The above are all available in most newsagents and WMSmiths.

You can also get club magazines about some of the biggeer teams like Liverpool, Chelsea and Leeds.

And don't forget match day programmes, available if you're attending a game. They cost between £1 and £4.

Also, fanzines, written by fans for fans can be bought around the grounds and in city centres. But beware some fanzines if you're giving them to your kids and you want to protect them from swearing and malice.

Happy reading!

Thursday, 4 August 2011


This is the second of ten blogs about reading football - one a day in the run up to the launch of the 2011-2012 Premier League football season.

The idea is to use these ideas to encourage children to get into reading through football.

One of the best ways of getitng your children into reading is by reading to them. Or with them.

I read with my daughter now, although she usually prefers to read to herself.

But sometimes it is still nice for us to read together. And the run up to the football season is a good time to do this, because there is a common goal (excuse the pun): your excitement about the coming football.

Can you find a book in the public library, a book shop, WHSmith or even one from home that you could read together?

Maybe a short novel by someone like me or Helena Pielichaty or David Bedford. We all write books that you could read for quarter of an hour each night for a week. (There is a longer list of authors you could try on the previous blog post.)

Maybe a biography of a favourite player.

A football fact book or quiz book.

One of the many football poem collections.

It is a nice habit to get into, especially easy if you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to have a bit less work on in the summer and bed times are a little later.

The National Literacy Trust have done lots of research ( that proves reading with your child even after the age they can read for themselves is likely to make them do better at school, enjoy reading more, be happier and be closer to their parents.

Borrow or buy a book now and read it in the run up to the football season.


This is the first of ten short blogs - one a day - in the run up to the Premier League football season that kicks off on Saturday 13th August.

Each blog will focus on something you can with your children to get you all into reading through football.


Over the next ten days I'll be talking about great football reading in magazines, online, books and in newspapers. Stuff that will get you in the mood for the football season - and that will get you in the mood for reading all year round too.

There is one place you can get access to all the above kinds of reading. For free.


Here's a list of the football reading you can find in the library:

* biographies of players (Biography)

* access to thousands of football websites: from BBC Sport to your favourite team (Online)

* books on how to play football (Sport, or Junior Sport)

* adult football stories, like The Damned United and Football Factory (Fiction)

* free newspapers - national and local (usually in the Reference section)

* books about football teams and history (Sport)

* magazines - some libraries have copies of Match, Match of the Day and FourFourTwo

* football stories by authors like Helena Pielichaty, Dan Freedman, Bali Rai, Narinder Dhami, Michael Coleman, David Bedford, Alan Gibbons, Mal Peet, and, er... TOM PALMER (in Children's Fiction)

I do loads of football reading in the library and it costs me nothing.

If you need advice in the library ask a librarian. They want to help. Tell them I sent you!

Part two of this blog will be posted tomorrow. Thanks for reading.