The power of the right book

When I was at school there were no books that I had any interest in reading.

I remember being in the dining room of the England Team Hotel, waiting to get some food. I was standing alongside Rio Ferdinand. This would have been some time in 2007.

I was nervous. Not so much because I was standing next to Rio who was, at the time, one of the world’s greatest defenders. Those initial nerves I had had dealing with high profile footballers had subsided somewhat having lived, worked and travelled alongside them as The Football Association’s in-house editor for seven years.

No — the real reason for my nerves was the fact that, late the previous night, I had slipped one of the first ever draft copies of my first Jamie Johnson novel — The Kick Off — under Rio’s door and asked that he take a look at it. I guess it was quite cheeky of me because, strictly speaking, it wasn’t FA business, but what’s the point of working with the best players in the country if you can’t ask them to have a look at the football novel you’ve just written?

The next morning Rio wasn’t giving anything away. He was far more interested in his breakfast (these footballers are also professional eaters).

In the end, I couldn’t take it any more.

“Did you get the chance to have a look at the book, Rio?” I enquired, unable to conceal the tension in my voice. Very few people at this stage had even heard of the Jamie Johnson series, let alone read a copy.

“Yeah,” said Rio. He looked serious. Almost disappointed. I braced myself for the worst — Rio is not someone to hold back on his views. “I just wish there had been a book like that when I was at school,” he said.

I watched as Rio disappeared off with his first meal of the day to go and sit alongside David Beckham and co while I just stood there, thinking.

What had struck me was that I was exactly the same as Rio. Not in the sense that I was a £30 million footballer with the world at my feet but in the sense that, when I was at school, there were, quite simply no books that I had any interest in reading.

Everyone (by which I mean teachers and parents) was always trying to force me to read, saying how enjoyable I would find it but no one could offer me a book which I actually wanted to read. It became a battle. And they were always going to lose. Forcing someone to enjoy something doesn’t work.

However, if you had sat me or Rio down when we were at school and given us the chance to read about football, well, then you would have been talking about a completely different story.

Imagine, too, if we could have read about football (in novels, magazines or newspapers) alongside our mates in a special kind of club — wow, it would have been even better! Reading would have been transformed from a battleground to a platform for fun, learning, discussion and enjoyment.

And that’s the beauty of Premier League Reading Stars — that club now exists.

So, if you’re teaching in a school and there are some kids who resolutely refuse to pick up a book but who do love football, step this way…

Since my school days things have changed. Now, there are football books for the young Rios of today to read. Plenty of them. And the National Literacy Trust and Premier League have created a wonderful scheme to turn those books and that opportunity into success. It’s an accessible scheme that has been shown to have quite incredible results.

Of course the battle to get kids reading still goes on but Premier League Reading Stars might just be your perfect secret weapon.

  • Dan Freedman is the author of the bestselling series of Jamie Johnson football novels and a regular speaker at schools around the world. Watch this film to see what he does on school visits.

Originally published at