We’ve hit a football phase in our household. When Toby’s not battering a football against the front door, he’s sorting, shuffling and swapping Match Attax cards or watching snippets of football games on YouTube.
I was never all that keen for him to develop an interest in football. I like the sport. Actually, it’s one of my preferred sports. I just don’t like the way that the game has developed into a global cash cow. The sport has become less about community camaraderie and more about corporate branding, and as we’ve seen recently that goes hand in hand with corruption. Plus, there’s the sexism and racism and homophobia that seem so inherent in the game’s culture. It’s a sport that’s sadly lacking in all the values I wish to pass down to my son.
I’ve also seen too many boys (and men) lose their lives to football. Other interests or hobbies are too readily abandoned to obsess over the results of a chosen team for approximately 10 months of the year. I want Toby to be aware that there is a wider world out there full of music, art, film and literature to explore, as well as a wider range of sports to learn about.
But the signs are strong that Toby is going to be one of those boys. And Chelsea (probably the worst example of everything I outlined in paragraph two) is his chosen team.
So when we recently cashed in the coppers from his piggy bank, and he discovered that all those pennies didn’t quite add up to a pair of football boots or a replica strip, he chose to buy a book written by former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard. I was pretty pleased about that even if it meant ditching my snobberies about footballers turning a hand at writing.
To say that Lampard actually wrote the books might actually be a bit of a stretch. In an interview in The Guardian he admitted that he finds the process of writing “hard” and although he comes up with the ideas for the stories he sits down with his editor to write them. Unfortunately, 10 pages in, I can tell. The writing is simple, even for a kids book, and lacks fluency and rhythm. It’s too early to judge how effective the story will be, but so far I’m not sold on an idea that involves a magic football that transports the characters to other places through a portal.
Lampard’s name clearly has credibility with young readers. Eleven books have been published in the Frankie’s Magic Football series demonstrating the commercial potential of this franchise. Whether the books last the test of time remains to be seen.
Although his writing skills may not entirely be up to scratch, Lampard does deserve credit for his role as a reading ambassador. He could have easily just given his name to the publishing project and sat back as the royalties rolled in but what comes across in his interviews is a genuine enthusiasm and passion for books and encouraging children to read.
He’s put his money where his mouth is on this issue too. Earlier this year he was appointed as an ambassador for the National Literacy Trust, which isn’t a typical post-career move for a footballer. When you consider that it is typically young boys who miss literacy targets then this appointment is a significant one.
Through Toby’s new-found football passion, I’ve discovered just how influential these players really are. Lampard’s active role in promoting reading may make a difference in turning wannabe footballers into enthusiastic readers. Or better still, he may demonstrate to young boys that you can do both.
Toby is really excited about starting this book and has even begun reading it himself, which I’m pleased about because although he can read well he lacks confidence in reading for pleasure. I’m also delighted to find a way to keep his interest in books, when we have so many other things competing for his attention.
Look out for our review of this book when we’re finished.