By Alan Gibbons
Writing the Read On biography of Wayne Rooney, Being Rooney, was a labour of love. I started supporting Manchester United in the 1967–8 season when City tipped us to the title by one point, but we became the first English club to win the European Cup. Getting to write about one of the club’s most exciting players of the modern era was a gift.
Some people look down on sports writing as if it is somehow un-literary. I don’t see it like that. Books like The Fight by Norman Mailer – an account of Muhammad Ali’s ‘rumble in the jungle’ fight with George Foreman – capture the way sport is a celebration of culture as much as a painting, poem, piece of music or novel. There is now a healthy and expanding body of literature exploring the way football reflects issues of class, race, gender, war and peace and the aspiration to achieve the extraordinary, to become more vibrantly human by attempting to be superhuman. When Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, it symbolised the madness of Hitler’s racist philosophy.
Sport has always been so much more than kicking a ball, clearing a hurdle or throwing a javelin. Who can forget the 2012 London Olympics when athletes like Mo Farrar and Jessica Ennis came to represent a new, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, inclusive Britain? Who can forget Danny Boyle and Frank Cotterill-Boyce’s skin-tingling celebration of modern Britain?
Sport is an inspiration to many. I will never forget going to Anfield with my family to commemorate the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster. One fan shouted. ‘Justice for the 96!’ behind us. Soon 30,000 people took up the call with one voice. It was the first step to winning justice for the victims’ families.
For many kids whose lives pulsate to the rhythms of their heroes’ sporting life, books about sport can be an incredibly effective bridge to literacy.
Free for your classroom:
Many sports-crazy young people imagine themselves lifting the Jules Rimet trophy. It makes me wonder why more schools don’t tap into this vein of enthusiasm. Why not engage your students in a narrative in which they imagine themselves as part of a World Cup winning team?
Click here to download a free classroom activity: Writing the World Cup, by Alan Gibbons
In this way your students can turn a lifelong dream into an affecting and engaging piece of fiction. You are now making sport that bridge to literacy.
Alan Gibbons trained as a teacher and through working with young people discovered his literary voice. He started writing fiction for his pupils and published his first novel in 1993. Alan has also appeared on the BBC education programme Writer’s Block, the Blue Peter Book Awards, radio 4’s Front Row, and is a regular contributor to TES, Junior Education, Carousel, Books for Keeps and other journals.