Read it like Rio: literacy scheme reveals footballers' favourite books

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The Independent Football

If you thought the only reading that footballers did was text messages or their own statements to the police, you are in for rather a shock.

If you thought the only reading that footballers did was text messages or their own statements to the police, you are in for rather a shock.

A new scheme to encourage fans to read has asked top players to nominate their favourite books. And many of their selections are not, as the cynics might suppose, to be found on the top shelf of the local newsagents, but in the literature section of their area's library.

They include George Eliot's Silas Marner (Lucas Radebe, Leeds United), George Orwell's 1984 (Colin Cooper, Middlesbrough), Jack London's The Call of the Wild (Kasey Keller, Tottenham), and Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes (Jeff Kenna, Birmingham City).

A number of Premiership stars have chosen children's books: C S Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Linvoy Primus, Portsmouth), J K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Lee Clark, Fulham), and Roald Dahl's The BFG (Rio Ferdinand, Manchester United).

Under the scheme, every Premiership club has selected one of its players to become a "reading champion". The players in turn select their favourite children's or adult book, which is then read aloud at special reading clubs, designed to promote family reading, that have been set up at libraries near the 20 Premiership clubs' grounds .

Manchester City and England goalkeeper David James, who chose J R R Tolkien's The Hobbit, said: "I believe that footballers have a responsibility to act as positive role models through schemes like this. Using football as a motivating force to learn, this project will attempt to break down the barriers that may have stopped people reading before."

The Arsenal and England defender Sol Campbell, who selected Beowulf: Dragonslayer by Rosemary Sutcliff, said: "I have spent many hours of my life, including when I was growing up as a kid, immersed in reading a good book. I hope it [the scheme] will encourage kids to pick up a book. If they do, I'm sure they will soon be hooked."

The project may have come in the nick of time for Britain's libraries, since research published earlier this week predicted that - on present trends - public libraries may well die out by 2020. According to the charity Libri, libraries - which cost more than £1bn a year to run - spend only a 10th of their earnings on books. The rest is spent on staffing and bureaucracy, which often leads to them being closed at lunchtimes and weekends when people are most likely to be able to visit them.

That is not the case with the 40 libraries signed up to the Premier League Reading Stars scheme. They offer out-of-school-hours reading sessions where parents and their offspring can join together to read the books chosen by their favourite footballers. The groups are also offered tours of the football grounds and match tickets to encourage them to join.

The scheme, co-sponsored by the National Literacy Trust and supported by Arts Council England, was piloted by some clubs last year but has now been extended to all those in the Premiership. Early indications from the pilots show that they have had some effect in switching pupils back on to reading. In all 90 per cent of the children taking part said that the scheme had made them want to read more, and 82 per cent of the adults who participated said that the sessions had made their families talk more about reading.

The scheme has also found support from former professionals. Ex-Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday striker Mark Bright, who is now a BBC pundit, said he didn't read much as a player.

"I neglected reading when I was younger," he said. "Everything was about football - I just read football magazines. Now I read little stories to my boy. I'm reading Meg, Mog and Og to him at the moment as well as some educational books.

"If I was still playing I'd see the bigger picture and take an hour out of my day to go down to the library myself."

Who's who in the reading league ...

Arsenal: Sol Campbell Beowulf: Dragonslayer, Rosemary Sutcliff

Chelsea: Carlo Cudicini Serious, John McEnroe

Manchester City: David James The Hobbit, J R R Tolkien

Leicester City: Les Ferdinand Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela

Manchester United: Rio Ferdinand The BFG, Roald Dahl

Leeds United: Lucas Radebe Silas Marner, George Eliot

...AND THE REST

Aston Villa: Olof Mellberg Prize Players, Michael Champion.

Blackburn: Craig Short Billy, Pamela Stephenson.

Bolton: Kevin Nolan Matilda, Roald Dahl.

Charlton: Dean Kiely It's Not about the Bike, Lance Armstrong.

Everton: David Weir The Godfather, Mario Puzo.

Liverpool: Chris Kirkland There's a Viking in My Bed, Jeremy Strong.

Newcastle United: Robbie Elliott Look! There's Elmer, David McKee.

Southampton: David Prutton The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Dan Millman.

Wolves: Matt Murray Keane: The Autobiography, Roy Keane.

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