ON THE GROUND: National Literacy Trust

Dominic Wood

Scheme: Reading the Game

Funding: £200,000 in total for three years, with more than half from the Football Foundation, with the Professional Footballers Association and Marks and Spencer providing most of the additional funding.

Objectives: To promote literacy to disadvantaged children through professional football clubs and players

Professional football clubs and their star players are increasing their efforts to team up with the National Literacy Trust for its 'Reading the Game' programme, which uses the seduction of the national game to attract children to the written word.

Reading the Game comprises three schemes, all of which are boosted by the appeal for footballing 'reading champions', made by the charity in September 2002.

The trust now has 59 individual reading advocates from 38 of the 92 football league clubs, including one from every team in the Premiership.

Arsenal, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace were among 10 clubs to sign up to Reading the Game last month. The trust has funding for a further 10 which will bring a total of 32 clubs on board by the end of this year.

The players inspire disadvantaged children by endorsing their favourite books and attending special reading events. "Our teacher-reading champions do a great job, but children listen to footballers more," said Jim Sells, the trust's literacy development officer for professional football. "Just a handful of words from their hero can impact greatly on a child's reading."

The existing 'Reading is Fundamental' initiative was the first literacy- based activity that the trust asked football clubs to help with in September 2002. Nine footballing reading champions helped start the scheme, which allows children who don't have books at home to attend learning support centres. By this July, the scheme will have provided more than 9,000 books to 3,000 children.

The 'Kick into Reading' scheme involves professional storytellers training Football in the Community officers to perform to local schoolchildren in libraries and football stadiums. Each club designates a day when children listen to the readings and, as a bonus, they are sometimes invited to watch the football match. Brentford, Charlton and QPR ran sessions that read to 2,700 children last year, but Sells is hoping for a further six new clubs this year.

Finally, a successful pilot for the trust's Premier League Reading Stars scheme last April led to its expansion this March. A total of 40 libraries will now take part, with all 20 Premier League clubs partnering between one and four local libraries each. The scheme creates reading and discussion groups for children, which are sometimes attended by players.

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