Hat-trick for the home side

6th August 2004 at 01:00
Kevin Harcombe with a football-based trio to be enjoyed indoors

Football Fantasy 5-a-side By Jon Sutherland and Gary Chalk Wizard Books pound;5.99 each

Big Match Manager By Tom Sheldon Bloomsbury Children's Books pound;5.99

Awesome Attacking By Michael Coleman Orchard Books pound;4.99

What would The Fast Show's Ron Manager think? "Enduring image, isn't it? Small boys, jumpers for goalposts, interactive sports books, mmm?"

Football Fantasy 5-a side is a series of games books designed to be played solo or with a pal. The pitch is: "If you ever wanted to put your footballing skills to the test, but didn't want to risk doing yourself an injury, here's your chance!"

After deciphering the 10 pages of instructions, you might feel a kick on the ankle is preferable to the throbbing in your brain. Football is a simple game - Football Fantasy is not.

After initial bafflement, I passed it to 11-year-old Patrick, after first removing the plug from his PlayStation2 to improve his concentration. He took to it with something approaching enthusiasm, which, considering it's a book, was a result.

While it's described as "perfect for dads and lads", the lad liked it more than this dad, who suggested going outside to kick a real ball. We could even use jumpers for goalposts.

Big Match Manager is more instantly appealing. I had to wait until Patrick had gone to sleep before retrieving it from his unconscious grasp to have a go myself.

Based on adventure formats (where you decide which course of action to take and turn to the appropriate page) the scenario is that your best player has been kidnapped. You must bring him back (preferably alive) and, using your pound;5 million budget, build the finest squad you can.

The "player profiles" are straight from Sky Sports's Andy Gray. For example: "This warhorse is a thoughtful and mature full back with a right hoof guaranteed to find row Z when it matters." And did they have the tiresome Motty in mind when they dreamed up the phrase: "Wherever I lay my sheepskin coat that's my home"?

Woven into the thriller plot (think Footballers' Wives meets Dream Team - but without the sex) is a fairly straightforward dice-based football game, complete with league tables. Patrick complained that these were fiddly to fill in because to do so involved cross-referencing and adding up and thinking and writing and stuff rather than staring lobotomised at a screen.

Once I pointed out he could still enjoy the book without filling in any of the tables, he decided he wanted to fill them in anyway. Great for a rainy holiday afternoon, of which this summer promises many.

Back for the new season, Michael Coleman's Angels FC run on to the pitch to the deafening roar of Jonjo's mum. Jonjo finds this very embarrassing, and plots to have her banned from the touchline. Needless to say, his plan backfires and he ends up running after the caravan in which he has locked his annoying younger sister as it is towed away by the Crushing Crew scrap merchants' lorry.

The three sharpshooting short stories in Awesome Attacking are part of a series that also includes Touchline Terror and Shocking Shooting. Quality is assured because Coleman is as deft with words as Wayne Rooney is with a ball. His action scenes hit the spot: "Racing across he tried to hammer the ball away - only to see the ball curve off to the right as if it was a rocket-powered banana." And that was written before Beckham's missed penalty in Euro 2004. Now that's classy.

Kevin Harcombe is headteacher of Redlands primary school, Fareham, Hampshire

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