The creator of hugely successful stories about a teenage footballer says his own relationship with both reading and football began badly.
Dan Freedman has sold 800,000 books about Jamie Johnson and the four TV series have been watched by around 30 million people.
But – he told students at Cramlington Learning Village (CLV) – he struggled with books when he started at school: “My teachers weren’t as good as yours and they ordered me to read. It felt like a punishment.”
His dad had taken him to his first football match at Spurs when he just three-years-old. It was the 1980s when there was a major problem with hooliganism. “There were no women or children, just drunk men fighting,” he said.
He was not put off and, before becoming an author, Dan became managing editor at the Football Association. He worked with the England team at two World Cups and interviewed Ronaldo, Messi, Beckham and Rooney.
With an absence of fiction about football, Dan decided to “write the book he wanted to read” and Jamie Johnson was born. But it took years of rejections by publishers and re-writes before the first novel The Kick Off appeared in 2012.
The next series of Jamie Johnson starts on CBBC in the Spring. His latest novel Unstoppable was published last year and tells the story of talented sporting twins Kaine and Roxy and their battles with each other and their father.
Dan is the seventh successful author of children and teenage fiction to visit CLV since September. “I had to come here because it’s a reading school and you’ve got one of the best librarians – Eileen Armstrong – in the country,” he told Year 8 and 7 students. “It’s been brilliant. I’ll never forget it. Each school is different, but I’ll certainly go away with a very strong impression of CLV.”
Although growing up in London, Dan said Newcastle legends Shearer, Gascoigne and Waddle were huge idols. “I’m aware of how much the area has given to me and everyone who loves football. I was lucky enough to interview Bobby Robson and his enthusiasm was incredible,” he said.
He hopes Newcastle United will soon overcome its problems on and off the pitch: “Times are tough and more than ever it’s got a role to play to help people get out of bed in the morning with a smile on their face. The sooner that can happen the better.”