Matt Butler: Trouble sleeping? Here’s Gareth Barry with a bedtime story...
View From The Sofa: Bringing Books to Life, BBC2
Hear about the Premier League footballer who liked books? He'd even coloured some of them in.
Yes, it's an oldie, but a goodie – and although the joke may be hackneyed, it does illustrate that the idea of our country's finest football players enjoying immersing themselves in some Hemingway or Stephen King after training can seem a little far-fetched.
But there is a bit of history when it comes to footballers and books. No, not Joey Barton – following “Nietzsche quotes” on Twitter doesn't count – but there are a good few, such as Theo Walcott, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who have gone on record to express their love of reading.
And Manchester City's Gareth Barry has become the latest to espouse words – he even told the BBC's Bringing Books to Life: “Reading books is a great thing to do. So grab a book and get reading.”
Which would have been great, but for two things. Firstly, the odds of the target audience being tuned in were remote. Because the show he was guest-starring on was broadcast at four o'clock in the bloody morning. And you can be almost certain that anybody watching TV at that time would not be on the search for sporting role models telling them how useful it is to be able to read. If you are wondering, the other inhabitants of terrestrial telly at that time include a newsreader, Columbo, a medieval artist unearthing religious artefacts in Leicester and a bunch of teleshopping hosts. Not exactly the cool crowd. More the don't-tell-anyone-we're-here mob.
Which is a shame, because the premise of Barry – who was ably assisted by Chelsea Ladies and England striker Eniola Aluko – telling kids (we presume from the surreal title sequence and language used that the show was aimed at insomniac pre-teens) that reading is fun is, on the face of it, commendable.
Aluko, who showed herself to be a bubbly, easy-going presenter, introduced the book – Jamie Johnson: The Kick Off by Dan Freedman – and it was up to Barry to read excerpts while sitting in what looked like a waiting room in the bowels of the Etihad Stadium. So far, so educational.
But the second quibble was that Barry's voice is more 'orse 'n' cart than Orson Welles.
He read out sections which should have been full of high drama, such as this description of a bungled penalty: “...as he was falling to the ground he flung his foot towards the ball so desperately, so violently, that his left boot actually fell off his foot. It shot right into the air. Meanwhile the ball that should have flown into the net rolled slowly, painfully towards the goal. It was his worst nightmare.” It looks gripping in print, but sadly, if anybody had been battling to achieve 40 winks in the wee hours, they would have had no trouble nodding off at Barry's stilted monotone.
It may seem churlish to criticise Barry's delivery, especially as he is paid to marshall City's midfield rather than talk about the importance of reading. And the revelation that Barry does not come across as the life and soul of the party will not surprise anybody who has attempted to drag an interesting quote out of the player in a post-match mixed zone.
But surely the point of having high-profile Premier League and England footballers on a show about books is to make reading seem attractive. And there must be a player about who is more engaging than Barry. Mind you, given the time the show was on, maybe they want to keep secret the fact that footballers can read at all.
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