With all the buzz of the Olympic Games still ringing in everybody’s ears, a whole generation of would-be athletes is geared up for anything sports related – so the start of the new football season this weekend can’t come quickly enough (even though our footballers put in rather dismal performances at the Games, but that’s enough of that).
Many youngsters will also be descending on their local bookshop for the latest in the Jamie Johnson series of football novels – and the last – by Mill Hill author Dan Freedman. Final Whistle covers the last stage in Jamie’s quest to make it to the top as a footballer and sees him, now aged 19, with a transfer to the best club in the world beckoning. But, of course, things aren’t going to go smoothly.
“The books follow Jamie’s journey as he tries to make it as a footballer,” says Dan, 34, “but they’re also about someone growing up, having a dream, trying to achieve things. His life is far from perfect – he certainly doesn’t win every game.”
For the books, Dan drew on his own background in football – as well as being a lifelong fan of the game, he worked for the Football Association as editor in chief of the website and in the press office, set up the England team’s in-house TV channel and has been editor with the Premier League and FIFA.
“Jamie’s are a mixture of the experiences I had working at the FA and with the England team for seven years and the attributes that the top players would have had in common,” says Dan, who was brought up in East Finchley, “things like how nerves affected them, what happens at a tournament between matches.”
Over the years, Dan met and interviewed all of the England footballers and reported on the matches and, working on the FA Cup Final programmes, he worked closely with all the teams’ players and managers.
“Steven Gerrard was fantastic,” Dan remembers. “I told him I was leaving to work on these books for children and he said it was a good idea and almost immediately asked if he could help in any way, which was incredible.”
Gerrard endorsed Dan’s first book, Kick Off , when Jamie was 13 and just starting out. “For a first-time children’s author to have the backing of someone like that was fantastic.” And it set a trend – Dan was able to get the backing of the likes of Gary Lineker, Frank Lampard and Joe Hart.
The idea for the books first came to Dan when he was trying to buy a birthday present for a football-mad 11-year-old. “All I could find was annuals,” he says. “I remembered back to when I was a stubborn kid who refused to read and the two things collided in my mind – I would’ve loved to read a book about a young footballer, so I thought I’d do that.
“Jamie Johnson came to me pretty much fully formed after that – an amalgamation of the players I’ve met and the player I’d like to have been. I’ve always played but I was never good enough. I’m too slow – that’s one of the reasons why I made Jamie so fast!”
After the first couple of books, there are six in the series, teachers began asking Dan if he could visit and give a talk on why he liked reading and about writing the books. Dan remembered himself as that stubborn boy who hadn’t liked reading, and now he regularly visits schools to encourage kids’ interest in reading and creative writing through their love of sport.
“I tell them I’ve interviewed Wayne Rooney and they’re hooked,” he laughs. “I don’t come out and tell them to read more but when they hear me talking about my love of reading and about all the footballers I’ve met and they hear the stories, they’re really inspired.”
- Final Whistle is available from Amazon now. Details: www.dantheauthor.co.uk