There are a lot of very average football books on the shelves. Autobiographies of players who haven’t even read their own book, yearbooks with players in the wrong kit, and Q&A books with outdated facts. The list is lengthened increasingly.
But what about those football fiction books with a really good story and great characters that you can really follow? Well, there are crackers around. So instead of lazily buying your kids a football diary full of pictures with Ronaldo on the cover, why not try some football fiction instead?
Here’s a quick list of great children’s football fiction books that will last a lifetime. They’re also far more reliable than a £30million winger who can’t cross a ball for caramel.
Guardian – Mal Peet
Located in the rainforests of South America, Guardian tells how ‘El Gato’ (The Cat) grew from a poor, lanky, talentless schoolboy to one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
Destined for a dangerous career in the logging industry, alongside his father, the teenager “El Gato” begins training with a mysterious goalkeeper deep in the rainforest near his village.
I won’t reveal the rest of the story, but it’s incredibly gripping and takes the reader deep into the thick, hot, sweaty jungle. I could almost feel the dampness escaping from every page. The simple world of El Gato is changing, but is it really for the better?
Said in an interview with a fictional journalist, it’s probably best for kids over 10. It’s not thick with football action, but there are occasional references to matches. It is the story of El Gato’s hard life that is most intriguing.
Kick – Mitch Johnson
Not every football book is about the main character scoring the winning goal in the cup final or playing for a big team.
Budi’s life, unfortunately, is millions of miles away from that. He dreams of becoming a world-class footballer, but at the moment his closest step is to his boots in an Indonesian sweatshop.
Budi has an incredibly difficult life, but the book is well balanced between a loving family and his horrible career, which is essentially modern-day slavery.
Football elements are very sparse in this book; kickabouts with friends are the only time we see match action. Despite its title, Kick isn’t really about football, it’s about getting behind Budi and seeing if he can overcome all the tough obstacles in front of him.
It’s at the grittier end of the footballing scale. There’s violence, child slavery, and a handful of really nasty characters. However, he overflows with hope and warmth. Kids ten and up will enjoy Kick. Hopefully this will open their minds and make them think about where all their expensive boots and gear came from.
Roy of Rovers – Tom Palmer, Rob Williams, Ben Willsher
The 21st century reboot of classic football hero Roy Race.
Things are not looking good for the once great Melchester Rovers. Bottom of the Football League, facing relegation, bankruptcy and owned by a greedy president who has just sold the entire first team! Worse still, local rivals Tynecaster top the Premier League, play in the Champions League and have just signed the world’s most expensive player.
Talented 16-year-old Roy is plucked from the obscurity of a local U18 league to join a squad of young recruits suddenly thrust into the Melchester first team. The stuff that dreams are made of, isn’t it?
Well, all is not well at home with Roy’s father in a wheelchair following brain tumor surgery and his mother having to work numerous jobs to make ends meet.
Can Roy and his new teammates bring Melchester back to glory? Plus, keep an eye out for Roy’s younger sister, Rocky, an up-and-coming soccer superstar as well.
For fans of Roy at the time, these books will give you a warm glow. Personally, I’m from the Spandau Ballet era and the terror bomb era – better not ask. Former Rovers players from the old comic strip Kevin “Mighty” Mouse and Johnny “Hardman” Dexter form the coaching staff at Melchester. Plus, there are plenty of nods and references to the “good old days” of football comics.
For new fans, this is a cracking introduction to Roy and certainly an exciting and quick read. Above all, the books are part of a series that alternates between the novel (Palmer) and the muscular graphic novels (Williams / Willsher). This should keep the reluctant reader fully engaged. Perfect for children under 10.
Now all we need is a Hot Shot Hamish reboot
Mighty Dynamo – Kieran Crowley
Noah Murphy (aka The mighty dynamo) dreams of participating in the school World Cup and becoming a professional footballer so that his father no longer has to work in Australia.
However, due to some very dodgy dealings, Noah finds himself playing for an all-girls school. He gathers an interesting mix of players to play alongside him and together they go up against other Irish school teams who are all striving for glory.
The mighty dynamo is full of exciting twists, great characters and strong moments. Beautifully illustrated throughout, the detailed player profiles are also a great addition.
A good read for ages 7 and up and will comfortably capture the imagination of the end of the age range (12/13). Lots of references to real current players and teams will keep your kids interested.
Football Academy – Boys United – Tom Palmer
united boys is the first book in Tom Palmer’s excellent and long-running Football Academy series.
It sets the scene as left-wing hero Jake Oldfield leaves his village side to join a Premier League Under-12 team.
united boys tells the story of Jake’s first games with his new team, as well as new friends, relationships with teammates and the coaching staff, and most importantly, the strong bond with his father.
There are plenty of details both on and off the pitch and it’s clear that Tom has done some excellent research into what it’s like to be part of a proper Premier League youth team.
united boys is not a long book, so perfect for football fans who are reluctant readers. It’s also a great starter for younger kids ages 6 and up.
There are illustrations throughout which help bring the story to life as there are a lot of characters to introduce. Readers shouldn’t be surprised by many characters in football books, especially when you have 11 players on each team.
Kick Off – Dan Freeman
The very beginning of Jamie Johnson’s phenomenally successful series that spawned his own TV series. It’s the boy’s business.
JJ is an incredibly talented footballer and is trying to make his way to a new school. His football skills are part of his road to acceptance among his friends and teammates.
Lots of football match action, with added expert advice seamlessly integrated into the story. If I weren’t a big, heavy, talentless defender, I would now be brilliant at overhead kicks and curling free kicks.
Another easy to read little book for reluctant readers in a matter of days. Plus, it has the added “already know it from TV” factor. Perfect for ages 7 and up.
A Kestrel for a Jack – Barry Hines
Ok, this is not strictly a football book. It’s really about a young Yorkshire boy (Billy) and his growing friendship with a kestrel.
This is another tough read as Billy suffers at home and at school. None more so than the short chapter about a school football game, led by brutal PE teacher Mr. Sugden. He’s living out his own football fantasies playing against the kids…and not in a nice way.
Billy doesn’t have a PE kit, is forced to wear clothes that don’t fit him, is put on goal and in the end is forced to take a cold shower by Mr. Sugden.
Kes was a book you read for GCSEs, and I was transfixed by the football chapter because it was probably the first time I had read anything about football in a real ‘school’ book.
This is slightly for the older end of the 12-16 childhood spectrum.
Kes contains swearing, corporal punishment, bullying and many other nasty things. So if you want a light and happy read for your kid, this isn’t for you. That said, it’s a great book, but be sure to read it with some tissues.
Llama United & Llamas Go Large – Scott Allen
A guy I know wrote these books banging his head against a wall for three months. According to an eight-year-old child, they are “not bad”.
Llama United and Llamas get big are on the crazy end of the football scale compared to some of the more serious books above.
Telling the story of a team of lamas who find themselves endowed with incredible football skills. Llama United are taken by heroes Tim, Cairo and grumpy Scottish manager McCloud on a cup journey, where they face human teams who will do anything not to be beaten by a load of animals.
In Llamas get big they do better and get involved in the World Cup.
Perfect for ages seven and up and those who like something funny. Football can be taken very seriously, Llama United no.