Booked: footballers reveal their favourite works to encourage children to read more

It was the life story of Nelson Mandela that switched Ryan Giggs on to the joys of reading.

The Manchester United player and Welsh international has selected the former South African president's autobiography, A Long Walk To Freedom, as his favourite book.

On the other hand, the former England under-21 star Riccardo Scimeca, now with West Bromwich Albion, would prefer to curl up with a sporting tale.

They are just two of the footballers backing a scheme today aimed at encouraging families to read together - thus improving children's reading standards.

The idea is also seen by Premier League bosses as a way of trying to shift the image of today's footballers away from that of brawlers to superstars who would like to put a little back into the communities they owe their living to.

Under the scheme, Premier League Reading Stars, every club has selected one player who will nominate their favourite adult or children's books. These choices will then be displayed at selected libraries across the country - so parents and children know their hero's favourite read.

The 20 are, for those who believe all the lurid tabloid headlines about footballers' lifestyles, a surprisingly erudite bunch. The books selected reveal a wide range of literary choices - from Nelson Mandela and George Orwell to the children's poet laureate Michael Morpurgo, and Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code. Ted Hughes, Stephen King and J R R Tolkien are also included.

Half of the players chose children's books - either because they had read them to their youngsters or because they had vivid memories of books from their childhood.

Only four chose books with a sporting connection - one, Dean Kiely from Charlton Athletic chose Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life chronicling how he overcame cancer and became the world's top cyclist.

Chelsea's John Terry, who singled out Michael Morpurgo's Cool, said of his choice: "All footballers read, whether it is match-day programmes, magazines or books. It's important to act as a positive role model and I'm really pleased that people want to know about my favourite books."

Many of the stars talked about why they had chosen their books. Stephen Clemence, of Birmingham City, who selected Roald Dahl's The Twits, said: "Having become a dad for the first time one of the things I am looking forward to is reading with my son. I used to love The Twits when I was a kid and I am sure he will too. I used to laugh out loud at the description of the cornflakes in Mr Twit's beard."

Newcastle United's Steven Taylor, who chose Keeper by Mal Peet - which tells the life story of a South American goalkeeper whose country has just won the World Cup, said: "It's full of excitement and really captures the passion and discipline that becoming a good footballer is all about."

Blackburn Rovers' Craig Short said his chosen book, Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks, was "a very descriptive and sometimes horrifying account of what life was like for a soldier in the First World War. It makes you realise how lucky you are not to have personally experienced the horrors of war."

Lee Carsley of Everton said his chosen book, The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream by Paulo Coehlo was "a good story about someone who has got it all but wants more". He added: "There's a good moral to it - about not being too greedy."

The scheme is being launched to coincide with International Children's Book Day and is supported by the Government. Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said: "Our public libraries are a great asset to communities throughout the country which are sometimes overlooked. These footballers are opening the door to family reading and improved literacy by showing that books of all different types are fun and accessible."

Neil McClelland, director of the National Literacy Trust, which is also backing the scheme, added: "Research has indicated that children growing up in a home with books and parents who read are more likely to read themselves and have stronger literacy skills."

Many of the libraries - chosen because they are near Premier League football grounds - have arranged reading clubs where the book can be read aloud to promote family reading sessions.

PREMIER LEAGUE READS

Arsenal: Freddie Ljungberg - Cars, Trucks & Things That Go by Richard Scarry

Aston Villa: Mark Delaney - The Iron Man by Ted Hughes

Birmingham City: Stephen Clemence - The Twits by Roald Dahl

Blackburn Rovers: Craig Short - Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Bolton Wanderers: Kevin Nolan - It by Stephen King

Charlton Athletic: Dean Kiely - It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong

Chelsea: John Terry - Cool! By Michael Morpurgo

Crystal Palace: Tommy Black - Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell

Everton: Lee Carsley - The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream by Paulo Coehlo

Fulham: Moritz Volz - The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint- Exupery

Liverpool: Chris Kirkland - There's a Viking in My Bed by Jeremy Strong

Manchester City: David James - The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

Manchester United: Ryan Giggs - A Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Middlesbrough: Colin Cooper - 1984 by George Orwell

Newcastle United: Steven Taylor - Keeper by Mal Peet

Norwich City: Paul McVeigh - The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Portsmouth: Lomana LuaLua - Tintin and the Lake of Sharks by Hergé

Southampton: David Prutton - The Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton

Tottenham Hotspur: Erik Edman - Ramses by Christian Jacq

West Bromwich Albion: Riccardo Scimeca - Keane: The Autobiography by Roy Keane with Eamon Dunphy

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