`Kick a ball about, but after you've read for 20 minutes'

20th March 2015 at 00:00
Why footballer Frank Lampard wants to inspire young readers

At the age of 36, Frank Lampard is thinking about what he might do when he retires from football.

After more than 20 years in the game, he is one of England's most lauded players, but he's already made an unexpected career swerve by publishing nine children's books. And more are on the way in the Frankie's Magic Football series.

"I thought I'd do something good with my time, rather than watching TV," he says. "Footballers spend a lot of time travelling and staying in hotels."

In the books, a magic football transports the eponymous hero and his gang to play football against adversaries including pirates, Romans, cowboys and ancient Egyptians. Lampard tells TES that he is often asked whether they are ghostwritten for him.

"I never do that," he says. "The story and the characters are all mine, the storylines are mine and I do write the books, but Mike [Ford, the editor] will help me with the structure of the story if I get a bit lost in how I'm writing it. I always want them to be my books: the minute I can't think of a story to write then I won't. As simple as that."

Lampard's books are written for young readers and aimed particularly at those who are interested in how to dribble a football past two defenders and score a cracking goal.

In some cases, their love of football has developed before their interest in reading. Last year, the National Literacy Trust survey revealed that 16 per cent of boys rarely or never read outside the classroom, and only 51 per cent of boys aged 8-11 thought reading was cool.

Lampard can empathise. "In terms of reading being uncool, I get that," he says. "I was a young boy myself who loved kicking a football or watching telly."

He is from a famous footballing family: his father, also Frank, played for West Ham; his uncle is long-serving football manager Harry Redknapp and his cousin is former Liverpool and England footballer Jamie Redknapp.

Lampard grew up in Essex, attending the private Brentwood School. He left with 10 GCSEs - including an A* in Latin - before signing on to a youth training scheme at West Ham for just pound;80 a week.

He has come a long way since then. The Manchester City star has forged a reputation as a world-class midfielder, clocking up 106 caps for England and becoming the all-time leading goal scorer for his previous club, Chelsea.

And Lampard is currently involved in the National Literacy Trust's Premier League Reading Stars programme. The principle is simple: Premier League footballers are role models and if they say reading is cool, many children - children who may not hold their teachers in quite as much esteem as they do a millionaire in shorts - will believe them.

He has also agreed to be an ambassador for the trust, helping to promote its work by visiting reading projects. "I'm very conscious of being a role model," he says. "It doesn't mean we're not human and we do make mistakes and learn from them.but the idea of being a role model is now encouraged by the clubs. Man City and Chelsea encourage helping in the community."

When he visits schools, he says, the first questions that children ask are about money, then about football.

"They want to know what car you drive," he says. "What's your favourite goal? Who's the best player you've played against? How much money do you earn? That one will always be there."

And he admits that he finds the link between being a role model and earning a lot of money worrying. "When I was young, I never looked up at whoever the best player was in those days and thought about what he earned per week. But I guarantee you that now people will say, `He earns so many million pounds a year.' It's become an important factor and children just suck it in.

"I don't see it as their fault for asking, but I answer it by saying it's not the important thing. It's a big problem we have in football: young players [are] going into football and the reward is the money they can earn rather than how good they can be as a footballer."

But Lampard credits his family and his teachers with giving him a good start in life. "I have to be very thankful," he says. "[One of the main reasons] I'm a footballer is because I'm from a footballing family. My dad pushed me in the right direction. I was very fortunate to go to a good school that pushed me in the right direction as well."

So what advice would he give to teachers of students who are too busy dreaming of the football pitch to knuckle down in the classroom?

"Playing professional football in the Premier League is a really difficult thing to do," he says. "If that's your dream then follow it. But cover all bases. Kick the ball about, but make sure you've done it after you've read for 20 minutes or done your maths homework."

He laughs. "Listen, that's very easy for me to say. You know the kid will have an answer to that as well. Kids have an answer for everything. That's why I have such respect for teachers."

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