All posts by tompalmer

I hate football

I hate football. Sort of.

I hate a lot of the things the game has become. The disgusting amounts of money involved. The celebrity. The sometime cheating on and off the pitch. Some of the media and how they portray the game. The bribery and extraordinary corruption of some of its ruling bodies.

I could go on.

But I love a lot of the things to do with football too. Being at live games. Watching it on TV. Listening to it on the radio. Reading about it. It suffuses my life and has done for three-and-a-half decades. It is a love that runs deep. A love that brings me as much pleasure as it does pain.

The heroes of my National Literacy Trust World Cup story, Foul Play: Brazil hate football too.

Sort of.

Danny and Charlotte love the game, really. Like me. But they hate how the game they love has been perverted. Like me. And maybe like you.  And millions of others.

This boy and girl – aged 15 – are the heroes of five Foul Play books published by Puffin. They are crime fighters. They take on the corrupters of football. The wrong-doers.

Fictional, of course. But very much based on real things that go on. Real things that annoy me.

For instance:

* a phoney football agent in Ghana who is exploiting and trafficking young footballers to Europe (Off Side)

* an Italian football club owner who uses his satellite TV channels to brainwash children into supporting one major team, not their local team (Own Goal)


* a British football chairman who kidnaps his own star player so that he can sell extra merchandise (Foul Play)

All the crimes in the series are based on real things that happen in a game that some call beautiful, but to a lot of outsiders seems ugly. Danny and Charlotte investigate these crimes. They want to make football beautiful again.

I want my daughter, 10, to love football during this World Cup. She is the perfect age to fall in love with the game, through a World Cup she might remember for the rest of her life. I don’t want her to wonder why I like a game that has hateful things about it. I want it to bring her joy. That’s why I set Danny and Charlotte off to clean up the game.

A chapter of Foul Play: Brazil will be published free on every weekday morning during the World Cup. It will be read aloud in at least 3000 schools.

Read chapter one here.

Thank you for reading.




World Cup Writing Exercises

As well as all the other stuff we’re doing to use the World Cup to promote reading, the National Literacy Trust and I will be creating a daily writing exercise for children.

There is no plan. The idea is to make up a writing exercise each day based on what the kids will be talking about in the playground.

For instance:

* if an England player was to be sent off in one of the matches, the exercise might be to imagine a short dialogue between the player and the England manager as the player comes off the pitch


* if England are playing in the Amazon rainforest (which they are), write about five things an England footballer might see if he went to visit an Amazon village

We want to make writing relevant and immediate. We hope it works.

You need to be a member of the National Literacy Trust to access these. Everything else we’re doing is free to all. Check out what being a member involves here.

I think it’s worth it. One, because you get access to good stuff. Two, because we need to support the National Literacy Trust now more than ever and they don’t get the government funding they used to.

Thanks for you consideration and thanks to the many many many of you responding so positively to this project.


World Cup Reading Tour

I’m touring the UK for the next five weeks. Doing my World Cup Reading Game.

And a bit of bike work.

The plan is to ask the children quiz questions about World Cup newspaper headlines, magazines, websites, fiction and non-fiction. Those who get the questions right get to take a penalty. The winner of the shoot out wins a trophy.

But there’s more to it than that. It is  a chance for me to ask the children what they like to read from all the reading materials above. That’s what I like best about it. Hearing children enthuse about what they have read: and seeing their classmates listen.

Peer to peer reading motivation.  There’s nothing like it.

I start tomorrow in Crewe and finish 33 days later in Basildon. Here are my tour dates.

The cycling bit comes in the middle. More details about that here.

June 7      Crewe and Handshaw Libraries
June 10   St Mary’s Primary, Levenshulme
June 11   Colwich Primary, Staffordshire
June 13   Stewarts Melville, Edinburgh
June 16   Fratton Park, Portsmouth
June 17   Two schools in Andover
June 18   West Thornton Primary, Croydon
June 19   Beacon School, Bucks

June 23 to July 4 Tour de France stuff
36 libraries in 10 days, by bike

July 8    Albrighton Primary, Shropshire
July 9    Ghyllgrove Junior, Basildon

That’s 63 events in all. Plus 250+ miles on the bike in the middle bit. However, during this time, I’ll be writing my daily World Cup story too, Foul Play: Brazil. That, to be honest, will be the real challenge.

World Cup Fact… or Fiction?

foul play 130

The Reading Agency have published a new Chatterbooks pack of ideas for children’s book groups today. Chatterbooks packs are great, often themed around things going on at the time. This pack is about the World Cup.

There are lots of great ideas in it to encourage reading for pleasure. One of the ideas is a set of ten scenarios from the world of football. Five are true. Five are not.

For instance:

  • the England captain is arrested on charges of shoplifting before the World Cup
  • a football chairman kidnaps his own player to increase replica shirt sales
  • the World Cup goes missing and is found by a dog

You have to decide which five scenarios are fact and which five are fiction.

In fact, the five which are not fact really are fiction. They are storylines from my Foul Play series, where a fourteen-year-old boy and girl have to solve football crimes.

Football is full of crime and grasping nasty people. That’s because of the money involved, amongst other things. Look at the news this week. It was even on Newsnight last night.

My young Foul Play sleuths go head to head with the worst kind of football villains. They want to keep football how it should be for children. About football. About friends. About fun.

But can you tell which five of the ten scenarios are fictions?

Have a go here.

Making a World Cup display that will promote reading in your school

Free Toolkit
Free Toolkit

The National Literacy Trust World Cup resource – Love Football: Love Reading 2014 – has a section about creating displays in schools. Displays that we hope will help get children reading for pleasure.

You can read the whole thing here.

But, if you want a quick introduction, the top five ideas for literacy-based World Cup displays in schools are:

ONE: World Cup reading selfies – children and adults showing off their favourite football reads from newspapers, magazines and websites.

TWO: World Cup goal – a 2D goal on the wall with ball-shaped review sheets for kids to stick in the back of the net. Or wide of the mark.

THREE: Free posters of children’s football authors saying what they’ll be reading to keep up to date with Brazil 2014.

FOUR: Teachers recommending their favourite football reads.

FIVE: A giant highly-ambitious World Cup wall chart that will dominate your school hall, reception or other space.

We hope these ideas are useful. More tomorrow.

Sports Writing Academy

I’m in Guernsey. On one of the most exciting writing jobs I’ve had.

I was approached by Steve Willshaw from the education department here. I met him first in Lincolnshire, where he worked before he moved to the Channel Islands. You might know him from his Reading Passports project.

Steve had identified a problem in Guernsey. That a lot of children in Y7 aren’t keen on / confident at / happy reading and writing. But it’s not just a problem in Guernsey, as we know.

Steve wanted to set up a Sports Writing Academy. To use a lot of the reluctant readers’ / writers’ passion for sport to persuade them to see writing as meaningful.

He asked me to help him. Along with four high schools’ PE teachers, English teachers and several well-known Guernsey sports’ stars.

This is what we’ve done so far:

1. We met the Y7s and asked them what sports they liked to play / do.  Then we asked them for more detail. The kind of detail that might help us develop a story.

2. I went away and thought up some story ideas based on their ideas. I wrote down ten solid ideas and sent them to the children, asking them to choose their favourite six. Which they did.

3. I wrote one story a month for six months. Some of the children read them and suggested edits, but also suggested local detail that would help me make all the stories very much set on Guernsey.

4. I came to Guernsey again and had a look at the settings the children wanted, to help me describe them properly. And also to work with the children on Guernsey – and Alderney – to develop six more story ideas.

By the end of 2014 we will have twelve stories. All defined and edited by the children. All set in the children’s familiar world. We also hope that the children will have developed more desire and confidence to read and write.

I said at the top that this is one of the most exciting writing jobs  I’ve had. That’s not because I get to visit Guernsey, which is very nice. It’s not because today I went searching for sports taking place on the island on Steve’s bike, in the sun. There are two reasons it is so exciting.

One, because I like to work with the children on stories that they feel they are genuinely helping to write, meaning they become more interested in reading and writing.

Two, because I am writing about new sports like bass fishing (a spy thriller), coasteering ( a ghost story) and ballet (a family drama). It’s stretching me as a writer – in big ways.

Thanks for reading.

How parents can use the World Cup to get their kids reading for pleasure

Free Toolkit
Free Toolkit

It’s the World Cup in six days and there are some great opportunities for parents to keep their children reading for pleasure through football. Take a look.

Several organisations have developed mostly free resources that you can use at home to engage children. Here are the highlights.

Mumsnet have done a great booklist of World Cup reading for all ages. It will have a big impact as it is aimed at parents, who, along with schools and libraries, are essential in the fight to encourage reading for pleasure.  They also have more World Cup material coming soon.

Words for Life is a website that aims to help parents to help their children to read more. Their website features several 2014 World Cup footballers – including Lampard, Lescott and Sterling – talking about what they like to read, with quizzes for kids to complete online.

Chatterbooks are developing a World Cup pack for reading groups. Not just for reading groups in schools and libraries, but at home too. There are several fun World Cup reading activities in there. The pack is not out yet, but watch this space.

The Literacy Trust have a massive amount of World Cup literacy materials for use in schools. But some of their materials have been specifically designed for use in the home. For instance, book lists, a football watching bingo game based on kids’ football books, a range of activities to do in front of the TV football, World Cup scrap books, free bedtime stories and a letter schools can send home to parents with tips of how to use the Wold Cup to engage kids with reading.

Bookspace do a fantastic writing kit based around the idea of the World Cup going missing. There are templates and activities that work well in schools. And… and… you get a replica full-size World Cup trophy. I cannot stress how effective this object is.

Finally, there is my own website. Posters, first chapters and ways of making reading about football fun. Also, families can email me to chat about the World Cup.

I’ll be tweeting about World Cup reading during the World Cup. Use the hashtag #nltworldcup to join in.

I hope all of this is useful. Please spread the word. All the organisations listed above work really hard all year round to promote literacy. It’s a good thing to get their great work out there and make sure they are allowed to keep doing it.

What is Foul Play: Brazil?

During June and July 2014 I will be writing a live World Cup story.  Foul Play: Brazil. For children to access in the classroom, the library or at home.

It will be free.

The idea is to write twenty-four cliffhanging episodes based in Brazil as the World Cup happens. The events on and off the field of play will affect how the story develops.

As a result I will write it every evening after the games are over and it will be published free on the National Literacy Trust website before 8 a.m. the next morning, so that teachers can download it and read it to the children.

The story will feature Charlotte and Danny, two fifteen-year-olds from the UK who have been sent to Brazil to cover the World Cup and write about Brazil for First News, the children’s newspaper. Unfortunately for them they will be thrown into a terrifying crime thriller scenario. Something, hopefully, that will grip the children.

Danny and Charlotte are the heroes of my Puffin football detective series, Foul Play. More about that here.

It will not be easy for me to write the story. But it will be worth it.

You can read chapter one – the only pre-written chapter – and find out more here. This is also the URL for the next twenty-three episodes.

The story will run from 11 June to 14 July, weekday mornings only.

Thanks for reading.


World Cup literacy resources

The football World Cup begins a month. England flags have already started appearing on cars. The unofficial magazines are heavy on the newsagents’ shelves. And – soon – most of the TV adverts will relate in some way to football.

Companies, organisations and individuals are ready to exploit World Cup 2014 for all they can get.

And so am I.

But – as well as hoping for a gentle uplift in sales of my books – I am doing it to engage children with reading for pleasure.

For the last three months I have been working with the National Literacy Trust to produce resources that will help teachers, libraries and parents to encourage football-loving children to read for fun.

We have created a free toolkit of activities, games and displays ideas for schools, libraries and homes. You can find that here, on the National Literacy Trust website.

During the World Cup from 10 June to 13 July I will write:

* a free daily (school mornings) episodic adventure story based in Brazil, each chapter written after the events of the tournament on and off the pitch, and

* a daily writing exercise based on the events of the tournament.

We did this for the 2010 World Cup and it went well. The fact that children are being read a story that includes events that happened less than 12 hours before seems to work.

We hope it goes well this time too. Please email me at if you have any queries.

Thanks for reading.

Visiting the Somme

Earlier this month I went to the Somme, to visit the scenes where WWI was fought nearly 100 years ago.

I was there to make videos for a new website that will be live later in April. The website is called and is an attempt to help children to understand what happened between 1914 and 1918 in Europe and beyond. It will feature my new book, Over the Line and another book, Tilly’s Promise by Linda Newbery.

Both of us have made videos about how we wrote our books. Some of mine are set in the places where the book is set. Delville Wood. The English Channel. A network of reworked trenches.

The most important video for me was when I revisited Sid Wheelhouse’s grave. Wheelhouse played for Grimsby Town and features as an uncompromising defender in the first chapter of Over the Line. I also described his death in a gas attack in 1916.

When I visited his grave two years ago – while I was writing the book – I was deeply affected. I knew I had to work harder to get his character and circumstances right.

But it wasn’t easy. How do you describe a man choking to death under gas attack over 95 years ago? I am pretty sure my first visit to his grave helped me to understand the gravity of what I was describing. I hope my second visit and the video I made are respectful too.

Reading War goes live next month. I’ll alert you on this blog. Over the Line is out now. You can get it in bookshops and libraries. I can post out signed copies too.

Thanks for reading.