Part 2 of The Day Huddersfield Town Beat Manchester United

Part 2 of this almost true story


At half past two, way earlier than normal, Grandma and Grandad decided to take their seats in the stand. Grandma headed for the stairwell but Grandad put his hand on her coat. ‘I think we should do something different.’

‘How’d you mean?’ Grandma asked.

‘I think we should go up to our seats from the left instead of the right.’

This was radical talk. Grandad never liked to vary his routine when it came to football. He’d only just changed out of the boxers he’d worn to Wembley back in May and he only did that because grandma threatened to leave him if he didn’t. ‘All right,’ Grandma said slowly and followed him out.

Their seat was in the middle of the row. Luckily, because they were early, there were only two people already sitting down. Not so luckily, one of them was an old man with two walking sticks who struggled to make way for them to pass, but they’d committed to their high-risk strategy and weren’t going to back down now. ‘Sorry, sorry,’ Grandma apologised.

The stadium was already three-quarters full. On the pitch, both teams were out in their tracksuits, warming up. ‘That’s Manchester United warming up on our pitch,’ Grandma said in disbelief. Grandad just smiled. It was noticeable immediately that there were differences between the way the two squads warmed-up. The Manchester United players were playing small games of five-a-side while Town were more linear, running in and out of cones and doing other stretching activities. Manchester United had a separate goalpost set up to the right of the actual goalpost for shooting practice, too.  Town used the normal one.  When the warm-up ended and the players left to line up, all the Town fans cheered and clapped their players off. They were getting behind their team from the start.

As three o’clock approached, Grandma grabbed her clapper from the seat. Other teams mocked Town fans for their clapper-usage but Huddersfield fans didn’t care. The ‘clap banners’ had helped create a noisy atmosphere and were a good way of getting everyone involved. Plus they made nice place-mats afterwards once you took the rubber band off and flattened them out a bit. The clapper that week had a picture of Aaron Mooy, Town’s brilliant Australian forward. This turned out to be a good omen.

The  stand opposite Grandma and Grandad’s was called the ‘singing end’ on account of that’s where the noisiest fans sat. These fans were separated by a narrow bank of seats and dozens of nervous stewards from the opposition fans sitting adjacent to them. ‘The Cowshed Loyal’ as they called themselves  were famous, not only for singing the loudest and leading the chants but for their dexterity with a an unwieldy flag.  Grandma noticed immediately they had something special lined up for the match. All the rows at the front were grabbing something long and white and it wasn’t Peter Crouch. Sure enough, as the teams left the tunnel, they unfurled their artwork. It stretched across four rows. ‘It doesn’t count how big you are,’ the top tier read in capital letters. ‘Or how experienced you are,’ it continued beneath. ‘If you have passion + desire…’ ‘…You have no limits.’  What a great message! They singing end had surpassed themselves this time.  They’d boosted the players and the crowd with their message. This was our version of Henry V at Agincourt, only without the swords.  Everyone cheered their efforts and then turned to the tunnel. It was time for kick-off.






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The Day Huddersfield Town Beat Manchester United – part 1

The Day Huddersfield Town beat Manchester United

based on a mainly true story

When I was little, my grandparents used to look after me twice a week while my mum and dad were at work. I loved going to their house. It was an old stately home with a long, tree-lined drive leading to the Foss Way; Grandma had bought it years before with the shedloads of money she’d made from being a children’s writer. The bottom of the house was made of thin slabs of blue lias stone taken from a Roman Emperor’s villa and the top was crumbling red brick added after Roundheads had burnt the original wooden part on their way to behead King Charles. *insert pic. of Chatsworth House here*

It was an interesting house that I never tired of exploring. My favourite part was the Town Room, a small annexe adjoining the main library wing. It was full of programmes and memorabilia from the football team they supported, Huddersfield Town. Some of the programmes, dating back to pre-decimalisation times, were wrapped in preservation paper and tied with acid-free blue ribbon. These were Grandad’s special programmes from when he was a little boy. Grandma didn’t have any programmes from when she was little. Unlike Grandad, who was born in Huddersfield and used to skive off from Polish lessons on Saturdays to go to Leeds Road, Grandma only started going to matches when she met grandad in 1981. Before that, she’d never been to a match, although when she was little  her grandma followed Leeds United and so she did too but this is a dark secret nobody must ever know.

There were lots of other things in the Town Room besides programmes; hats and scarves and shirts and DVDs and framed pictures of players and teams. One of grandma’s books, There’s Only One Danny Ogle, was included because it was about a boy who suppors Huddersfield Town and Kevin Gray, a former Town player, had come to its launch at the ground in 2000. There was another children’s book, Over the Line by Tom Palmer, on the shelves; that was set in World War One and featured Jack Cock and Larrett Roebuck who were real Town players. The book I looked at most was my copy of the limited edition Huddersfield Town baby record book, filled in by my mum. It’s got banana stuck to the cover. Authentic!

I was allowed to touch almost anything I wanted in the Town Room, including the 1960s programmes. I could try on all the hats and shirts, too, even though the shirts came down to my ankles at the time. I could even wrap myself in the flag they bought at the Millennium Stadium in 2004 when Town beat Mansfield 4-1 on penalties in the Third Division Play-off Final. The only thing I wasn’t allowed to handle without permission was the special collection from the 2017-2018 Season. This was behind a glass case in the middle of the room and I needed a key, kept round grandad’s neck, to get into it. Of course, this made me want to look at the stuff even more and that’s why I can remember, even now, every single thing in that glass case.

I’d better explain why that collection was so significant that it was kept locked up. The previous May, Town had beaten Reading on penalties to win the Play-Off Final at Wembley, earning promotion to the Premier League. Nobody expected that, not even Huddersfield Town. This was a ginormous achievement.

‘You’ll get hammered’ everybody predicted at the start of the season. ‘Straight back down’ the away fans chanted.

At first, Huddersfield, under the leadership of the legendary David Wagner (his statue still stands outside the ground today), did really well and confounded their critics by getting nine points quickly but by late September progress had stalled and what the journalists called ‘a reality check’ kicked in. They lost 0-4 to Spurs and then lost 2-0 away to Swansea. It was the Swansea game that unnerved the fans because they had hoped for at least a point.

And then came the BIG ONE. On October 21st, 2017, Manchester United came to Huddersfield Town. Now, although Manchester United were no longer the force they once were, playing them was still a massive deal. Manchester United’s record was awe-inspiring; they were one of the most famous clubs in the world and playing against them was every other team’s highlight of the season even if they denied it.  They were also the richest club in the world. One of their players, Paul Pogba, was on £290,000 a week, ‘…almost as much as me,’ Grandma would chuckle.  The last time Huddersfield Town had met the Red Devils in a league match was 1971 and the last time they beat them was 1952. That was before my grandparents were even born, which is  mind-blowing because they are well ancient.

The week before the match, grandma was full of cold. She was wheezing and sneezing all over the shop. She even stayed out of the way when I was there, something she never usually did because she loves me to bits. I don’t remember that, though – I was only one at the time. Anyway, to make matters worse, the day of the match, the weather was awful with Storm Brian causing havoc. Not that any of that put my grandma off. No way. She wrapped up warm and hoped whoever was sitting next to her at the match didn’t mind her spreading her germs.

Finally, the big day arrived. It took grandma and grandad nearly two hours to get to Huddersfield because their stately home lies on the very, very outskirts of Yorkshire. They parked up near the Sports Centre, as usual, and went to Patisserie Valerie on King Street for lunch. Grandad had a club sandwich and grandma had scrambled eggs on toast with honey-glazed bacon and mushrooms but she left her mushrooms because they weren’t very nice. Then they set off to the ground. They had to leave much earlier than normal because they knew over 24,000 tickets had been sold and neither of them liked queuing at the turnstiles. Through the wide, Georgian streets they walked, past St Peter’s Parish Church, past the ‘away pub’, the Boy and Barrel, where Manchester United fans could be heard singing loudly and slightly off-key, and on to Leeds Road.

Outside the Gas Club (for home fans) the diehard supporters were already quite merry and in good voice, while further along, between the  scarf sellers and the burger vans, the strains of bagpipe music filled the air. Nobody knows to this day why there was a ‘Scottish’ piper on the bridge over the River Colne. ‘He just appeared at the start of the season,’ Grandad told me. ‘Nobody knew where he came from or why he thought Town fans would hire him for weddings, as per his hand-written placard, but there you go.’

Although it was not yet two o’clock, fans were already heading for the ground and there was an air of excitement, tinged with slight trepidation. Most fans expected to lose the match and they just hoped the team wouldn’t be thumped by too many goals. Still, that didn’t dampen their sense of occasion and they were all jolly glad they’d had the foresight to buy a season ticket before Town got promoted.

Near the main entrance to the stadium, people were selling tickets for the half-time Golden Gamble and one of Town’s sponsors, Covonia, were giving away sample packets of cough lozenges. Grandma grabbed two packets and munched them during the game. The empty packets are in the cabinet, along with the programme and cardboard clapper.

As they climbed the steps leading to the Upper Tier of the Panasonic Media Stand, Grandad had a radical idea. ‘It was that idea that helped us win the match, I’m convinced of it,’ Grandma later told everyone on Twitter.


… to be continued.










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This is the Boot – a poem for Huddersfield Town

This is the Boot

This is the boot
The amazing boot
That kicked the ball
And scored the goal that won the match at Wembley.

This is the player
The amazing player
Who filled the boot
That kicked the ball
And scored the goal that won the match at Wembley.

This is the team
The amazing team
That played alongside the player who filled the boot
That kicked the ball
And scored the goal that won the match at Wembley.

This is the coach
The amazing coach
Who built the squad and trained the team
That took the player who filled the boot
That kicked the ball
And scored the goal that won the match at Wembley.

This is the man,
The amazing man
Who backed the club and backed the coach
Who built the squad and trained the team
That took the player who filled the boots
That kicked the ball
And scored the goal that won the match at Wembley.

This is the club,
The amazing club,
With its pride and passion and history and grit
And people who cared what happened to it
That supported the man
Who backed the club and backed the coach
Who built the squad and trained the team
That took the player who filled the boots
That kicked the ball
And scored the goal that won the match at Wembley

These are the fans.
The amazing fans
Who follow the club through thick and thin
Who sang for joy and lifted the roof
For their club, with its pride and passion and history and grit
And people who cared what happened to it
That supported the man
Who backed the club and backed the coach
Who built the squad and trained the team
That took the player who filled the boot
That kicked the ball
And scored the goal that won the match at Wembley.

This is the bus
The double-decker bus
That took the players from their ground
And round the town
With its cheering crowds and rugged pride
To share the moment with the fans
Who follow the club through thick and thin
Who sang for joy and lifted the roof
For their club, with its pride and passion and history and grit
And people who cared what happened to it
And supported the man
Who backed the club and backed the coach
Who built the squad and trained the team
That took the player who filled the boot
That kicked the ball
And scored the goal that won the match at Wembley.

This is the league
The Premier League
The amazing reward for the town and its fans
Who follow the club
With its pride and passion and history and grit
And people who care what happens to it
And support the man
Who backed the club
And backed the coach
Who built the squad and trained the team
That took the player who filled the boot
That kicked the ball
And scored the goal that won the match at Wembley.

Helena Pielichaty 2017

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Patron of Reading 5 years on…

Five years ago, on May 4th 2012, I visited Ysgol Esgob Morgan Primary School (now Ysgol Esgob Morgan Church in Wales School) for the first time as its Patron of Reading. This brilliant initiative was first mooted by the dynamic headteacher there, Tim Redgrave. He’d first met me a couple of years earlier when he brought his class to see me at St Asaph Library as part of Denbighshire Libraries Book Week.  A man who recognises talent when he sees it, he sounded me out about the idea and wondered what I thought. What I thought was it was a genius way to promote reading for pleasure in schools and I was delighted when he asked me to be his patron.

Denbighshire Library Services’ finest: Bethan Hughes (left) and Kara Orford (right) librarians of the highest order.

At the time, neither of us really knew what to expect or what the role entailed. What I do remember was an awareness that this was something different from an ordinary school visit, with the potential to grow into something mega. I wasn’t wrong: there are now over 200 patrons of reading in UK schools. How fantastic is that?

Over the next four years we had some amazing times. I always looked forward to my visits and did my best to pull something extraordinary out of the hat for ‘my’ school every time I went. I remember one assembly where I pretended to be the lame boy who gets left behind in the Pied Piper of Hamelin. I took my grandma’s old walking stick with me, limping slowly between the year groups as I recounted how left out I felt when I couldn’t keep up with my friends as they rushed after the charismatic Pied Piper and how lonely it was being the only child left in Hamelin. The pupils and parents were enthralled. It was one of those special moments when the storyteller and audience are bound together in the magical cocoon of the narrative.

Over the years, being a patron meant that I built a special relationship with children and my dedicated blog gave those who wanted to a way of communicating with me in between visits. I wrote newsletters to each class, recommending reads and telling them what I was up to in my writing. I became that ‘twelfth man’ to their class teachers, adding praise when children did something outstanding and supporting them by writing letters, creating Patron of Reading certificates and attending special occasions such as the North Wales Book Quiz and Y6 leavers’ Services.

I also got to know the teachers in a way I wouldn’t have normally done Although it was Tim who came up with the idea and was always ready to back (and fund) any ideas we had, it was Jenny Ritchie, the Lit Co, who helped put the author/school partnership into practice. She organised a Big Book Quiz (teachers v pupils) and used my blogs on poetry in her classroom. It was Mrs Ritchie’s class who ‘shadowed’ the Nottingham Mega Reads Book Award I was  involved in and read the same titles to her class so we could compare results.  Unfortunately Jenny left half way through my tenure but her support and enthusiasm was catching and the other teachers were just as keen to keep the momentum going.  Although I had said I’d be patron for three years I stayed for four, seeing a whole cohort of children through from Y3 to Y6. My role as a patron of reading remains one of the highlights of my writing career.

Tim Redgrave showing some of the early patrons on his chart. He’d need a larger wall now!

Did it make any difference to the school’s reading culture? I hope so. Esgob Morgan remains the only school to have achieved 100% participation in the Summer Reading Challenge for 4 years in a row and the school library needed extending, borrowing had increased so much. When the school was inspected, the inspectors acknowledged the scheme gave an ‘added value’ to literacy at Ysgol Esgob Morgan. I’m sure Tim and the staff would be able to provide further examples.

The Two Steves are the new patrons at Ysgol Esgob Morgan now and I can tell from their tweets they have a ball when they visit.  Elsewhere, the movement has been embraced by primary and secondary schools alike. In Haringey, there’s a group of patrons ‘The Haringey Chapter’ who network with each other and have an independent bookshop, Big Green Books, working alongside them. Authors I meet, such as Alan MacDonald, tell me how much they enjoy being patrons of a school. Like with my experience, it makes them feel special and that they’re contributing something important and fun. The PoR movement has been featured in many educational articles and reading websites. We were even on the telly once!

It’s not been plain sailing all the time. A few schools, especially secondary, just don’t get it and either neglect or take their patron for granted. The relationship breaks down and leaves the author feeling disheartened. Some schools question why the author should be paid for the visits which seems strange as no one questions why teachers should be paid for teaching!  There are also a few who think the patron is there to fill in gaps in their English curriculum and are aghast when we say we’re there for the opposite reason – to breathe life into reading, not kill it stone dead.

All in all, though, the patron of reading idea has been a roaring success and like all success stories it’s the simplicity of it that works.  Of course children and teachers are going to turn into keener readers if they’ve got their own real, live, published and enthusiastic author as their patron in da house. If you don’t believe what difference authors can make, check out  studies like this one by Professor of Education Teresa Cremin.

So here’s to the next five years and thank you, Tim, for being such a forward-thinking head teacher. I’m so glad I was your first patron of reading.

Here I am on one of my first visits in 2012. The pupils shown here will all be in Y9 by now. The books were prizes for being ace librarians. Note my delightful Patron of reading crown.








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Empathy Lab and Black Dots

I attended a conference yesterday for Empathy Lab, the new organisation using books to help children understand about empathy. One of the speakers was Prof. Robin Banerjee of the University of Sussex. He’s done a lot of work exploring the impact a lack of empathy can have on children’s social and emotional needs. One of the most affecting things he showed us was a diagram of a Y6 class’s friendship patterns (slide 4 on the study). Children were asked to nominate those they most like to spend time with. Instantly you could see the popular kids, the kids with a few friends and those without any (the ‘rejected’). These rejected classmates were shown by black dots and the diagram had two black dots – ‘Alex’ and ‘Emily’ with no arrows going towards them, even though their arrows reached out to others. No one wanted to spend time with them in other words. What must life be like for Alex and Emily?  Why do they find it so hard to connect with others and vice versa?

Following Dr Banerjee was Teresa Cremin. Teresa did that thing – that magical thing – of reading a book out loud. She chose Nicola Davies’s King of the Sky. The way she read it made me want to cry. The lonely, nameless Italian boy with no one to talk to or look after him would have been a black dot on the diagram. He hadn’t done anything wrong; he just didn’t know how to communicate with his classmates (language barrier?) and they didn’t seem to want to communicate with him. As in many of Nicola Davies’ picture books, wildlife healed him. And as with many picture books, it was Laura Carlin’s powerful illustrations that made the story deeply moving, as well as Teresa Cremin’s skilful delivery.

So why was I there? Because Miranda McKearney of Empathy Lab approached the Patron of Reading gang, of whom I’m one, and asked if patrons might help deliver Empathy Lab programmes in schools. ‘After all, ‘ she said, ‘authors are the masters of empathy.’ She’s right. Our books are full of characters who are outsiders. From classic ‘loners’ to ‘oddballs’ to ‘geeks’ to ‘sociopaths’ – you name ’em, we’ve covered ’em.  Why? Because they’re the most challenging to write and the most interesting to read. We’re also good at showing why these outsiders have no friends or don’t ‘fit in.’ What makes them so unpopular or alien? Are they simply vile people who don’t deserve to be liked? Sometimes, but then again Draco Malfoy is an extremely nasty character in the Harry Potter books and he has friends; Draco would not appear as a black dot on Dr Banerjee’s chart.

Then there are the issues stories explore. Bullying, homelessness, loneliness, racism, disability, sexuality, pollution, divorce, bereavement, animal cruelty… basically, whatever is going on in the world, books have got it covered.  They don’t always have a happy ending – that would be fake – but they do, mostly, offer hope. That’s why books such as Wonder by RJ Palacio and Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian are so popular. They’re not easy reads but they show the reader that, no matter how bad things seem, there’s always someone or something to help you through. So it makes perfect sense that EmpathyLab would enlist authors to support the cause.  Check out this list of ’empathy-boosting books’ here.

A brilliant example of why children need empathy skills can be found on this blog by a mum called Hayley writing about loneliness. ‘It started in primary school,’ she writes. The blog shows that the bullying Hayley endured at school has stayed with her into her adult life. What’s interesting and heart-breaking at the same time is the number of comments from others relating to her experience.  Hayley could well be the Suzanne character in my book, Saturday Girl, only I hope I gave Suzanne enough ammo in my story to allow her to grow into a confident adult.  Perhaps if EmpathyLab had been around in Laura’s primary school, she would have led a more emotionally-stable life.

So bring on the empathy and bring on using books and authors to show children how to make the world kinder, safer and a better place for us all to share.


PS: Sorry no pics with this post – my server won’t download any – back soon once it’s sorted.




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One Club, One Community

In 2000, Roy Keane, then captain of Manchester United, famously lambasted the club’s fans for their poor support during a match against Dynamo Kiev. His anger was particularly directed at the ‘men in suits’ up in the corporate seats who ‘…can’t even spell football let alone understand it.’ He nicknamed them the ‘prawn sandwich brigade’ and the phrase has stuck ever since. Well, there were plenty of men (and women) in suits in the Revell Ward Suite at the John Smith’s Stadium on Thursday but they were as far from the ‘prawn sandwich brigade’ as Tring is from the sea.  They weren’t there to freeload, they were there to witness Dean Hoyle, the chair (some might say saviour) of Huddersfield Town, re-launch the fabulous initiative which is the Town Foundation.

Dean Hoyle with some of the children from the Breakfast Clubs having a day out in Filey. Photo c/o Town Foundation website

The Town Foundation is the charity arm of the club. Many clubs have similar foundations and do tremendous work. It’s a shame that side of what football clubs do isn’t given more credit in the media.

I became involved in the Town Foundation in 2012, soon after its inception and quite by accident. A follower on Twitter alerted Sean Jarvis, the commercial director at the club, that I was a Town fan. I was invited to meet Sean and I was impressed by this approachable guy who was as happy to discuss this new venture with a mid-list children’s author as he was with the movers-and-shakers from commerce and  industry. I was impressed, too, that the whole purpose of the Foundation was principally to help children from socially deprived areas by providing Breakfast Clubs and other schemes such as reading diaries. Reading diaries – I almost swooned! But that’s what makes Huddersfield Town so special – they know what’s important. I was honoured to be invited to become a patron of the Town Foundation in 2013, alongside such luminaries as Ed Clancy and Andrew Gale. It has been my pleasure to visit some of the schools involved on World Book Days and during school holidays. The last one I did was great fun – a creative writing workshop on a ghost train at Halloween.



All aboard the ghost train with the Town Foundation. Photograph: Contact

Fundraiser Julie Sheffield with Y6 from Hightown JIN October 2016 Photo: Contact

Anyway, such a huge undertaking needs financing and publicity so of course big businesses and major organisations were at the re-launch on Thursday but so were teachers and headteachers, so were people like Wendy Marsden, who runs the Kid’s Café at Lowehouses from a care-worn church hall.  Far from being just another corporate ‘do’, there were people there with stories to tell and stories, as we all know, are what makes us human.

Sean Jarvis, Commercial Director at Huddersfield Town, with Head of Retail Luke Cowan in 2016

Sean Jarvis was MC for the event.  Sean talked about key moments in the club’s recent history that had led to this day: the centenary in 2008, the new chairman (Hoyle in 2009), the dramatic play-off final at Wembley in 2012 and the match against Barnsley in 2013 that kept us in the Championship. With each listing my smile grew wider as memories flashed through my head.  I  remembered walking down Wembley Way alongside thousands of other Town fans, chanting that earworm chant as passers-by looked on, bemused. And the Barnsley match – yes, I was at that one, too. I’d never experienced anything like it and I’ve been going to matches since 1982. It was the last match of the season and Town, alongside Barnsley, Peterborough, and Fulham, were all statistically eligible for the drop.  Everything depended on picking up points and other teams losing them and, as fate would have it, we were playing Barnsley at home. Check out this link for how events unfolded but the last two minutes of the match when play almost stopped, with players gently tapped the ball from one to the other without any intention of scoring, were surreal and endeared me to Barnsley ever since. I’m sure Posh fans feel the same…

So anyway, it was all good stuff from Sean and then came the guest speaker, the Mayor of Kirklees no less. ‘Old School’ is what probably describes Clr Jim Dodds best; tall and imposing with a shock of white hair, he talked about growing up in Newcastle and how his heroes had all been footballers such as Len White. He talked about how, when a club does well, the whole town feels good and that had everyone nodding. It’s true, too. I know that local newspapers’ sales rocket when the local team is having a good run – success has a knock-on effect.  A huge part of  keeping that momentum going, the mayor continued, was getting footballers out into the community and meeting people but especially meeting children. ‘Let’s help them get reading again,’ he added, ‘…children don’t read enough.’ I could have hugged him.

He was followed by Dean Hoyle. This was a first for me, seeing Dean Hoyle only yards away. I had that same feeling I get when I’m appearing at literary festivals and I am in the green room with highly esteemed authors such as Neil Gaiman or when I served on the management committee on the Society of Authors and shared a table with Sarah Waters and Anna Sebba. I think it’s called imposter syndrome – that feeling of being somewhere you shouldn’t be because you’re not worthy and out of your depth. Still, there I was and keen to hear what the founder of the charity had to say.

The area of Lowehouses falls into one of the worst 10% in Kirklees for deprivation (2010 stats)

Unlike his commercial director, our chairman looks less happy in a suit. He looks, in fact, as if he’d rather be on a factory floor with his shirt sleeves rolled up, discussing production, or out on the training fields watching his dynamic head coach, David Wagner, put the players through their paces. But he’s here in the Revell Ward Suite and he has a job to do and when he is called to speak, he approaches the podium with confidence. Hoyle doesn’t have the steely physical presence of the mayor but what he does have is belief. ‘Believe’ has long been a motto of Town’s and Dean Hoyle believes in the club and the Foundation. That belief in the importance of charity work, he revealed, stems from an encounter he and his wife Janet had when meeting the headteacher of a primary school not far from the Leeds Road training ground. The headteacher told them of a boy who had been abandoned by his parents and whose background and situation were heartrending. The encounter, less than three miles from where the Hoyles lived, shook them both. They were determined to do something to help, not just that particular child, but other children like him. ‘There are problems on our doorstep,’ Hoyle  told us, his face grave and earnest. He’s absolutely right. The Metropolitan Borough of Kirklees, of which Huddersfield is the largest town but also includes many smaller, old woollen and textile mill towns like Batley and Dewsbury, as well as more rural settlements such as Denby Dale, was ranked 67th out of almost 400 in the last survey of Britain’s poorest areas.  In 2013, unemployment in Huddersfield among men was over 9.2% compared to nearby Penistone at 3.6%.  Behind those statistics are households struggling to make ends meet and within those households are children suffering as a result. The National Literacy Trust has long established a link between poverty and literacy. Basically, the more literate a child is, the more their chances of escaping the poverty trap.  Yet with public services under threat and many Kirklees libraries being closed, these avenues out of deprivation are being shut off to those who need them the most. That’s why I was glad when Dean Grice and Julian Winter, key figures in Hoyle’s team, explained why they had included education as one of the four new ‘goals’ and had partnered with Kirklees College. The other goals are sports, inclusion and health. They’re all linked. They’re all crucial. ‘We (Huddersfield Town) are the biggest brand in Huddersfield. We have a duty to give back,’ Hoyle said.

At the end of the session there were no questions from the floor but one hand was raised. ‘I don’t have a question, the speaker said, who, it transpired, was the headteacher at the school where it had all begun. ‘I just want to bring you up to date. I was there when we talked about that boy and I just want to tell you that thanks to your support he’s doing well. He’s gone on to better things.’  The headteacher didn’t gush. He didn’t elaborate or start heaping praise and platitudes on the panel at the front. He left it at that. Nobody clapped or whooped – we’re Yorkshire, remember – but we felt it: that moment when your eyes prickle because you’ve heard and witnessed something real and important.

Andy Booth at one of the Town Foundation’s breakfast clubs. Julie Sheffield in the background.

Afterwards I talked to Andy Booth, the club’s popular ambassador who, along with fundraiser Julie Sheffield, does so much of the leg work helping to run the Foundation and put all the initiatives into place. ‘What I like, ‘I told him, ‘is that unlike other clubs we don’t just make the players go out and rock up for  events – it’s a joint effort – everyone’s involved.’

‘Oh, but they do go out,’ Andy replied. ‘This is the best squad ever for being willing to meet the public and go the extra mile. Especially the German lads – it’s part of their culture.’

I left feeling so inspired. What a cause. What a club. Maybe we should invite Roy Keane to have a look round. I’ll bring the sandwiches.


To donate to the Town Foundation or find out more click here.












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Carnegie Medal Longlist Controversy

I was once nominated for the Carnegie medal; it was back in 1999 for Simone’s Letters. I can’t tell you how delighted I was – the Carnegie Medal was the children’s book award as far as I was concerned and to be nominated was the ultimate accolade (although I suppose winning would have been the ultimate, ultimate accolade but sadly Simone didn’t make it to the longlist). Seventeen years later and thirty two books down the line and I haven’t had a sniff of the medal since. I thought I might have had a chance with Never Ever (2001) or Accidental Friends (2008), two of my Young Adult novels but nah. I was disappointed but tried to heed Paul Arden’s advice in It’s Not How Good You Are Its How Good You Want To Be . ‘Do not try to win awards,’ Arden states, ‘… awards are judged in committee by consensus of what is known. In other words, what is in fashion. But originality can’t be fashionable because it hasn’t, as yet, had the approval of the committee. Do not try to follow fashion… that is where true art lies.’  Exactly – Never Ever and Accidental Friends were works of true art. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett (2001 winner) and Philip Reeve’s Here Lies Arthur (2008 winner) weren’t original at all – they were merely ‘on trend.’ Yeah – as if!  Both are excellent books, both are on my bookshelf, both stayed with me for a long time after I had finished reading them. Both, without a shadow of a doubt, were worthy winners of the Carnegie Medal.

What I’m trying to say is that being nominated for the Carnegie Medal, let alone making it to the next stage, is a real achievement for any children’s writer. Ask J K Rowling if you don’t believe me. She hasn’t won it, either.

All of which brings me on to the controversy that has broken out over this year’s Carnegie longlist. Having whittled the initial list down from about 50 titles to 20, the CILIP judges , all widely experienced librarians, proudly announced who was still in the running for the 80th medal. Here they are:

2017 CILIP Carnegie Medal longlist (alphabetical by surname):

  1. Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot by Horatio Clare (Firefly Press)
  2. Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce (Pan Macmillan)
  3. Unbecoming by Jenny Downham (David Fickling Books)
  4. The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon (Orion Children’s Books)
  5. How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss (Simon & Schuster)
  6. The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (Faber & Faber)
  7. Whisper to Me by Nick Lake (Bloomsbury)
  8. Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard (Chicken House)
  9. The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard (Old Barn Books)
  10. Pax by Sara Pennypacker (HarperCollins)
  11. Railhead by Philip Reeve (Oxford University Press)
  12. Beck by Mal Peet with Meg Rosoff (Walker Books)
  13. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt (Andersen Press)
  14. The Marvels by Brian Selznick (Scholastic)
  15. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (Puffin)
  16. Island by Nicky Singer (Caboodle Books)
  17. Dreaming the Bear by Mimi Thebo (Oxford University Press)
  18. Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford (HarperCollins)
  19. Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (Corgi)
  20. The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (Andersen Press)

It’s quite a cohort and I see that pesky Philip Reeve’s on again, curse his teeming talent. What you don’t see are any writers from a BAME background (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) and this is where the trouble began.  I’m not on Facebook but my timeline on Twitter went into overdrive, with many reacting to this Guardian piece. It was the quotation by Nick Poole, chief executive of CILIP, that proved the most contentious. Forced into defending the all-white longlist he wrote:

“The books on the longlist are judged on merit and on an equal playing field. This year’s longlist represents, in the opinion of the judges, the very best books of the year, with no consideration of gender or ethnicity of either the writer, illustrator or audience,” said Poole. “The broad subject matter of this year’s longlist – stories about refugees, disability and migration – illustrates the breadth of range that the medals are known for.”

On the surface, this seems reasonable and nothing less than we’d expect.  Every school librarian worth their salt tries to find ‘a breadth of range’ that reflects and challenges their pupils’ reading habits. Sometimes they struggle to find a range  but that’s down to what’s being published, not lack of awareness by librarians.  But are judges truly ‘blind’ as to who writes the book?  Many thought not. ‘It’s not an equal playing field, my friend,’ wrote Nikesh Shulka and called for a boycott of the award.

While I feel a boycott would be unhelpful and over-the-top, I think there is a real issue here that needs addressing because CILIP  is one of the most important gatekeepers of children’s literature in the UK. CILIP needs to address this matter promptly and with honesty. I want to believe that judges do look for ‘the very best books of the year’. I have met two of them – Tricia Adams and Jake Hope –  on many occasions and I defy anyone to name two greater advocates of books and writers.  But the omission of BAME writers is a serious matter. It sends out subliminal messages that perhaps BAME writers are not producing good enough books to be longlisted for this prestigious prize. This is clearly not the case. Malorie Blackman, Narinder Dharmi, Candy Gourlay, Catherine Johnson, Bali Rai and Benjamin Zephaniah have all carved out successful careers as children’s writers. Their books are excellent, their voices are heard. In fact, Blackman’s Pig Heart Boy was shortlisted for the Carnegie in 1997 and was serialised by the BBC. Some might use this as evidence that, see, BAME writers do get recognised and this whole thing has been blown out of proportion by the ‘political-correctness-gone mad-brigade’ but the reality is, there aren’t enough Malories, Catherines and Balis coming through or, if there are,  they are not getting the same recognition as their white counterparts.  For many BAME writers, the playing field must seem a long way away and, for the few who make it to the boundary, there appears to be double the amount of fencing to climb before they can begin to check out how level the thing is.

So what’s the answer for the Carnegie Medal award? Positive discrimination? To automatically include at least one BAME writer on the longlist every year?  I’m not sure. As a writer, I’d want to be on the list through merit, not because of the colour of my skin.  What might be more useful is a look at whether there are underlying, subconscious reasons for our gatekeepers’ selections.  Do the librarians who nominate the books read with an implicit bias without realising it, given the vast majority of the librarians and judges are white? Again, I don’t have any answers but I think this is  worth examining. Have any studies been done on this? I’d be interested in any links, if so.  The reverse could also apply, of course – BAME writers may also have their own implicit bias.

Other troubling issues emerged from my Twitter feed, not related to the Carnegie as such but are part of the wider picture. One of the observations Malorie Blackman (photo left) made was how some publishers have certain expectations of BAME writers. They want black writers to write about ‘black issues’, for example, not about football or the perils of first dates. Stay in your box in other words. It’s a similar gripe Denbighshire Reading Services Manager Bethan Hughes (inset below) has about books set in Wales. Basically, too many dragons. ‘There’s more to the Welsh than dragons,’ she once told me.  Hear, hear. And there’s more to British Muslim kids than curry and the Qur’an and there’s more to Yorkshire folk than flat caps and whippets. This pigeon-holing needs challenging robustly. It’s wrong. It’s damaging and it limits both storytelling and storytellers.

Then there is the accusation (not made by Malorie – I forget who) that organisations are happy to promote books by white writers with BAME characters and BAME ‘issues’ but not those by BAME writers themselves. The stories of ‘refugees, migration and disability’ Nick Poole alluded to. Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow, for instance.  I suspect books such as Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird would come under that category or 2015’s winner, Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman.  My books too, to some extent. In Girls FC, I had a girls’ football team made up from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds. There was Eve, whose parents were originally from Ghana; Nika from Ukraine and Tabinda, whose father is Gujarati and mother Punjabi. Those backgrounds weren’t issues in the plots – the plots were all about the footy – but having a multi-cultural team was a no-brainer. No doubt I missed many cultural identifiers through ignorance but I tried, and will continue to try, to be inclusive in my books. It’s the idea that my books might be favoured over a BAME author writing about a girls’ football team that concerns me. Could that really happen? It’s an uncomfortable truth, if so. However, I’d defend every writer’s right to write about any character of any colour and culture they choose, as long as they do so with respect and for the right reasons. There are enough problems in writing without denying us the creative process.

What might help is if the Carnegie Medal were only open to UK-based writers. On the longlist of 20, there are 2 Australians, 7 Americans (I’ve excluded 2 American-born writers now residing in the UK ). Such a restriction would mean children miss out on hearing about some terrific books but the smaller pool might give more UK-based BAME writers a greater chance of inclusion. Or is the system so biased it still wouldn’t make any difference?

I don’t really know how to address any of this – I am, after all, a white writer – but I want a level playing field and I hope this furore goes some way to looking at how to achieve one.

Matt Imrie, a school librarian and former judge added this well-balanced piece on his Teen Librarian blog here.



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Pinsky Press

Did I tell you about my exciting start to 2017? I’ve only gone and become a publisher, haven’t I?  Only a teeny-tiny one, specifically for one title but hey – full marks for enterprise, right?  I have called myself  Pinksy Press and the website is over here: Pinksy Press. It’s a micro site to promote Baby Football Fan – My First Year. My son Joe designed it and I think it’s  excellent. He used Persona as a template as it was quick and easy but also quite funky. Thanks Joe!

So, what’s the story?

Back in 2015 I designed a bespoke baby record book for Huddersfield Town. Unfortunately it was quite expensive to produce on my limited budget so Mandy Stanley, the illustrator, and I worked on a more generic template for future editions with other clubs. The idea was the cover will be changed to suit the club but most of the insides would be the same. These are called ‘common inners.’ It’s like when bakers bake a birthday cake. The sponge mix is delicious for all customers but when requested, the baker can add icing and decorations of your choice. You want chocolate on top? You get chocolate on top. Sprinkles?  Here are your sprinkles, hun.

Now, when Mandy Stanley made our cake – I mean book – the common inners were so uncommonly brilliant we decided we could put the book out there as it was. It didn’t need chocolate or sprinkles – it was perfect. This makes Pinksy Press is Baby Football Fan – My First Year great for any fan of any football club. Genius!

Tell me more about baby record books?

OK. When you were a baby did your parents fill out a record book for you? You know, recording all those important milestones like how much you weighed when you were born, what your first words were, how cute you looked in those Finding Nemo wellies?

Well, Baby Football Fan is like that only as well as space for all those key details, it has pages dedicated to what was happening in the family’s favourite football team that year, too. Where they were in the league the day you were born and who the manager was – things like that.











I think you’ll agree it’s a cracking idea so if you know anyone who is having a baby and loves football, Baby Football Fan makes a perfect baby shower gift. If they don’t like football… not so much!








  • Baby Football Fan comes in a choice of two glossy hardback covers, one for white babies, one for black babies
  • It’s great for fans of all teams – men’s and women’s
  • It’s suitable for all families – traditional and non-traditional (mums and dads, mums and mums, dads and dads)
  • And it’s only £11.99 for 32 pages of gorgeousness.

Hi Five!

Buy from Amazon

But you’re still writing fiction books for children aren’t you, Helena?  Please say yes.












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The Hypnotist

hypno-cover-border-643x1024The Hypnotist is children’s picture book writer and artist Laurence Alholt’s first novel for young adults. You can’t tell. Rather than his first, it has the assured style of someone who has been writing for this age range for years. The Hypnotist  is powerful book with a theme that couldn’t be any more relevant to today’s readers. It’s set in 1960s America, although the first chapter, where we meet Pip in St Joseph Poor Boys’ Orphanage, makes the setting feel much earlier. Pip is a 13-year old black boy, cruelly orphaned when his parents are killed in a traffic accident. We don’t get to know much about the orphanage – Anholt whisks him out of there pretty quick and into the service of Zackary, a grizzled,cumudgeonly type who lives on Dead River Farm with his morbidly obese and bed ridden wife, Lillybelle, and their only son, Erwin. Erwin, we soon learn, is not a nice guy. Erwin is best avoided at all costs, especially if you happen to be black. Pip soon learns to be on guard at all times, night and day, in case he bumps into this cruel young man and his mysterious associates.

Also on the farm is Hannah, a 13 or 14 year old (she isn’t sure of her age) girl of Native American descent and another of Zackary’s servants. Hannah might have been a potential ally for the lonely Pip but she is surly and silent and difficult to get to know.  It is only as the story unfolds we learn of her secret inner life and hopes and dreams.

Added to the mix is Irishman Jack Morrow, the hypnotist of the title. He is a lecturer at a college in the town and rents a place within spitting distance of Dead River Farm.  Apart from Lilybelle, Jack is the only man to show any kindness to Pip, recognising in him the same loneliness and sense of being an outsider he  has often experienced.  As the story progresses Jack, Pip and Hannah form an alliance that leads to deep friendship and love, with each one of them screwing up their courage to help the other when the time is needed.

I enjoyed The Hypnotist very much. Anholt deals with difficult issues of racism and white supremacism in a credible way.  The racism is open and brazen, as was the case in the southern states in 1960s. There is a scene where Lilybelle sends Pip to fetch her some burgers from the take away and he finds himself barred from entering: ‘No dogs, Negroes or Mexicans’ the notice declares.’ On his return, empty-handed, Lilybelle is amused. ‘Aw, honey,’ crooned Lilybelle, stroking his cheek. ‘Didn’t ah tell ya? You have to wawk round th’ back. There’s a li’l shed there for Coloureds.’

As I mentioned in the introduction, The Hypnotist feels as if it is set in a bygone era of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, for example. But the research is spot on, the period absolutely accurate – experiences like Pip’s were not uncommon in the 1960s. Worse still, The Hypnotist could also be said to be a contemporary work. With Donald Trump the president-elect of America, and white supremacists celebrating that victory with Nazi salutes only THIS WEEK, America feels as if it’s going backwards. ‘I will build a wall to keep out the Mexicans’ was the Trump quote for which most gasped but many applauded. That’s why fiction is so important and stories like The Hypnotist more important still. We need writers  to offer  readers hope and to shine a bright light along troubled paths with their stories. Pip and Hannah walk troubled paths but the light is always there, shining, shining, and good triumphs in the end.

The Hypnotist by Laurence Anholt

Published by Corgi

RRP: £7.99

Age range: 11+

Themes: friendship, racism, overcoming all odds

Would suit: Y7/8/9 classroom readers for discussion












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Blog for New Teachers Part #2: Class Readers

how-to-tell-stories-to-childrenHere’s the thing. I taught for seven years full-time and a further thirteen years part-time. I taught in junior schools and secondary schools. I taught in small village primaries and huge city secondary schools. I had good classes and awkward ones. I had days when I was on fire and days when I simply didn’t deliver what my class deserved. Sometimes I rocked and sometimes I was totally out of my depth. Totally. Those lessons were awful for all of us.

The one constant in my teaching career was my love of reading out loud to my class. This is where I excelled. This is what kept me going. It felt like cheating, it was so simple. Find a book, read it out loud – success guaranteed. I could be wrong, of course. I could be mistaking ‘success’ – that lack of shuffling, that silence, that absorption in the story – for something else; submissive boredom or a perception that listening to a story was better than ‘real work’ but I don’t think so. I think it was the magic of storytelling casting its spell.

The titles of the books have changed since I left the classroom (I hope) but the method hasn’t. The tips in How to Tell Stories to Children and some stories to tell by Sara Cone Bryant (born 1873), published in 1910, are as pertinent now as then. ‘Story-telling is at once one of the simplest and quickest ways of establishing a happy relation between teacher and children and one of the most effective methods of forming the fixed attention in the latter.’  ‘Happy relation.’ ‘Fixed attention.’ What more can a teacher ask for? Establish a happy relation and the rest is easy – even teaching inverse adverbials. Same goes for ‘fixed attention.’ Any teacher who can gain ‘fixed attention’ in 2016, using only a book, deserves praise and an enormous box of Celebrations.

So, for what it’s worth, here are my tips.

1. Choose the right book

Well, dur, But it’s amazing how many teachers don’t put enough thought into their choice of class reader. It isn’t good enough to simply pull a book from the trolley at random on your way back to the classroom and hope for the best. It isn’t good enough to pick something because it’s popular, either. I visited a Y4 classroom where the teacher had invested in a set of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Why? Those kids have seen the film, bought the t -shirt, had the book given as a Christmas present five times already. Half of them know how it ends – they know what’s coming. What’s the fun in that? It’s a long book, too. Even reading every day for twenty minutes it will take a whole term to get through.


  • Ask for ideas from a school librarian. They’re still around (just). They know what goes down well for your year group.  Here’s where a lot of them hang out: Schools Library Association
  • Spend a whole Saturday or Sunday in a large bookshop with a good children’s section.  Check out titles by new and unfamiliar authors rather than going for the same old- same old. Sure, Michael Morpurgo is wonderful but so is Gill Lewis and Guy Bass and Kaye Umansky and Andy Mulligan and Sita Brahmachari and … well, basically there are hundreds of great writers to choose from. Discovering new writing is part of the fun!
  • Check out social media. There’s a great hashtag on Twitter #myclassreads.
  • Look around your class. What sort of kids have you got?  Are there many with short attention spans? Maybe shorter titles might suit them better? Are they newly settled children from several different countries? Are they mad about science, ghosts, the planet, monsters?  There are gripping stories out there that will not only cross boundaries but will also allow your class to feel included. Children love recognising themselves in characters.  Read what children’s writer Leila Rasheed has to say on diversity in books.  This great blog here calls for teachers to vary their stories by  ‘offering different flavours of water.’
  • Don’t be put off by ‘age bands.’ Y6 can still enjoy picture books – it’s just got to be the right picture book.
  • Don’t be limited by genre. Non-fiction, poetry and plays can be just as engaging as straightforward stories.
  • Can’t get to a bookshop?  Surf the net for suggestions. Not Amazon – you’ll only end up with Roald Dahl and the usual suspects. Be adventurous. Check out Bookbag or publishers’ websites such as Walker Books and for guaranteed diversity try Letterbox Library. The Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ magazine Carousel is great for reviews, too.
  • Ask other teachers. They will share ideas and tips on successes and failures. Remember, though, a book that goes down well with one group might not be as well received by another.
  • Ask the kids. What are they reading? What would they like to hear?

2. Create the right reading environment

Trying to read to kids in a busy school hall or with constant interruptions is a nightmare. You will never get that rapt attention with doors banging and other teachers sticking their heads in your classroom and saying ‘Have you got a minute?’  Treat your book-on-the-go time with respect, as something precious. Find a cosy, quiet place to read. Put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door.

Let the kids get comfy. If that means lying on their tummies on the carpet, so be it.

Let kids doodle while they listen. Some children need to have that as an aid. Doodling is a silent activity that won’t disturb others. The child is still listening to the story.

Don’t turn story time into a comprehension lesson. Stopping every two minutes to ask questions is a killer. ‘Why do you think Ronaldo did that?’ ‘Does anyone know what a boomerang is?’ Arghh! It stops the flow. Trust the kids. They’ll glean from the story what they need to at their own pace.

3. Titles that worked for me (KS2)

Don’t forget I’ve been out of the classroom since 2000. However, I’ve been involved in the world of children’s books since 1965 when I was 10 and fell in love with reading. Also, not meaning to brag but I was the UK’s first Patron of Reading until 2015, so I know stuff.  Here goes:



‘A Little Aloud’

Perfect for all KS2 teachers – poems, extracts, short stories and tall tales all with a reading time for those end of day moments






Diary of a Killer Cat by Anne Fine (1994)

My no-fail classroom read for KS2. I once had to stop to check if a Y4 was OK, she was laughing so much I thought she might injure herself. See also Jean Willis’s Silly Cecil and Clever Cubs for similar reaction.





Goodnight Mr Tom

goodnight-mister-tom-cover  Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian OK, OK, I know I’ve just said ‘find new authors’ but this is timeless. Y5/Y6









The Considine Curse by Gareth P Jones


Confession: I haven’t actually read this out as a classroom reader but I so would if I were still in the classroom. Y5/6. Spooky, funny, weird.








The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce (2012)



Just like it says on the cover – ‘…warm, funny and totally original.’ The story of brothers Chingis and Nergui from Mongolia and their ‘guide’ Julie, who is put in charge of looking after them, told in Cottrell-Boyce’s inimitable style. Y6/Y7








Poo Bum by Stephanie Blake (2011)

poo_bum_1024x1024 Remember what I said about picture books being for all age ranges?  OK, here’s a two minute read. It has the words ‘poo’ and ‘bum’ and ends in ‘fart.’ What’s not to like?  All year groups.














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