by Rob Parker
This is the tale of how I inadvertently ended up writing a children's football book...
My life changed pretty dramatically just before Euro 2016 kicked off. We welcomed identical twin daughters into the world. Although they had to spend some time in the neonatal unit, having been born at 33 weeks, they fought really hard and unexpectedly got themselves strong enough to come home before the start of the tournament.
The result was a lot of time over the next couple of weeks spent watching international football, while nursing tiny babies. Said babies seemed to take a surprisingly keen interest in the matches.
It is doubtful - though not impossible - that they were in awe of Antonio Conte's rejuvenation of the three-man defence with Italy, or that they were wowed by Wales punching well above their weight.
But the more likely scenario is that the colour and movement of the games had caught and retained the interest of their little eyes.
Throughout the forthcoming season, the pattern continued. As editor of Off The Post, I watched my fair share of football over the course of the 2016/17 season, and my daughters would regularly watch with me. At this stage they had little-to-no interest in cartoons or kids' TV programmes, yet they remained captivated by the action on a Premier League pitch.
A seed was planted and that seed would eventually become my children's football book World At Your Feet.
Why a children's football book?
Well, so far I might have painted a picture of me spending my days inflicting marathon football-viewing sessions on two infants. But that was only the odd 90 minutes, mainly at weekends. No, not even the overhyped and packed football fixture list can keep twin babies fully entertained. Of course, my wife and I also spent lots of time reading stories to them.
Books by Julia Donaldson, Andrea Beaty and Allan Ahlberg (to name just a few of their favourites) provided daytime entertainment and some pre-bedtime relaxation for the girls.
At some point these two strands became entwined.
I say at some point, but in fact I vividly remember the idea coming to me because it woke me in the night. As you can imagine, it made a pleasant change as a wake-up call from crying in stereo.
The idea was for a book that would capture the colour and, as far as possible in a static medium, the movement of football, which my daughters had enjoyed almost from birth. That sense of movement would be aided by rhyming verse that effectively dictated the pace of the story, while also commentating on goals being scored.
I knew that I wanted the book to be written in the second person so that 'you' scored each of the goals. This seemed to bring an aspect of playground football to the story, while also feeding the imagination of the reader. Nobody's ever scored a goal as themselves in the schoolyard, have they? In my day, there were plenty of Eric Cantonas, Alan Shearers and the occasional Tony Yeboah on target. For today's kids, I suspect Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah are prolific most lunchtimes.
Finally, although it would primarily be a children's football book, I wanted it to be as enjoyable for parents or older readers as well. That meant the verse should be engaging for everyone and the illustration of a quality that could be appreciated by anyone who appreciates good design. Hopefully, I achieved the latter (you'll be able to judge for yourself when you read the book) and you can see for yourself that the illustration by Lawerta is first class.