It was when I wanted to buy a present for an 11-year-old football-mad boy that the idea to write this book actually struck. There didn’t seem to be a football novel for kids. I couldn’t understand it. I know that if someone had given me one when I was 11, I probably would have read it in two days flat,” says Dan Freedman, author ofThe Kick Off, in his author zone on Scholastic’s website.
Freedman has done quite a good job of it. I read The Kick Off in half a day and my 11th birthday is lost in the mists of time. For the record, Steven Gerrard (the Liverpool captain and England player) and Owen Hargreaves (the Manchester United—and England—midfielder) liked the book. Says Gerrard on the cover blurb: “You’ll read this and want to get out there and play.” Hargreaves testifies: “True to the game… Dan knows his football.” No tribute could be higher.
The Kick Off:By Dan Freedman, Scholastic, 172 pages, Rs250.
The Kick Off is a pretty exciting read for an 11-year-old. It is about Jamie Johnson, the aspiring footballer. Jamie not only wants to become the star football player for his school, he has even bigger ambitions. He wants to become a professional footballer. The problem is that neither his mother, teachers nor his best friend support him in this endeavour. Or believe in it. There is just one person who stands by Jamie—his grandfather.
Jamie finds life getting tougher ever since he messed up a simple penalty kick in an important match. The dejected boy heads to grandpa’s house for solace, gets an invaluable lesson in the spirit of the sport and a very important manual—grandpa’s (who himself played football when he was young) old coach Kenny Wilcox’s tips on footballing.
Amid news of falling grades, teachers’ disapproval, jeering opponents and the cold shoulder from his dear friend Jack (a girl), there are just a couple of things going for Jamie. Wilcox’s invaluable commentary and Danny Miller, the star player of the school team, who gives Jamie his last shot at footballing glory—a deciding match against the school’s traditional opponents. Can Jamie deliver?
A child can relate to each of the incidents that happen to Jamie. The bullying, the taunts, the little high points that cheer Jamie up, Freedman has brought school life—especially sporting school life—alive.
An aspiring footballer himself, Freedman did the next best thing when his footballing career didn’t take off. He became a football journalist. He has been editor of The FA (Football Association). “Staying in the England team hotel during a World Cup is an unbelievable experience. I’ve even managed to squeeze my way into a couple of functions at Buckingham Palace and Downing Street. When you’re standing there, with the Queen on one side and David Beckham on the other, you have to pinch yourself that it’s all actually happening.”
One thing stands out clearly in The Kick Off. It is Dan Freedman’s love and excitement for the game of football. And he easily passes this fever on to the reader.
The writer is the editor of Heek (e-heek.com), a children’s magazine.
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