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Tom Palmer is a football fan and a writer. He never did well at school. But once he got into reading about football – in newspapers, magazines and books – he decided he wanted to be a football writer more than anything. As well as the Football Academy books, he is the author of the Football Detective series, also for Puffin Books.

Tom lives in a Yorkshire town called Todmorden with his wife and daughter. The best stadium he’s visited is Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu.

Find out more about Tom on his website tompalmer.co.uk

Books by Tom Palmer

Football Academy series:






For older readers





Illustrated by

Brian Williamson



Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3

(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)

Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia

(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)

Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India

Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand

(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)

Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank,

Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England


First published 2009

Text copyright © Tom Palmer, 2009

Illustrations copyright © Brian Williamson, 2009

All rights reserved

The moral right of the author has been asserted

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

ISBN: 978-0-14-193196-8

For John and Kate Page



Off to London

Sing When You’re Winning

Bright Lights, Big City

Central London

Craig in Trouble

One-Match Ban

West Ham v Chelsea

Arsenal v United

The Deadly Duo


Like Father, Not Like Son

Secret Santas

Posh Shopping

Thin Ice

Red Card

The Fan


An Announcement

Chelsea v United


Two Minutes


Father to Son


James sat staring out of his bedroom window – desperate for it to snow.

The weather forecast had been full of warnings all day: twenty centimetres of snow on its way to northern England. But although the clouds were heavy – and the light strange – there was still nothing.

‘Are you packed, James?’ a loud voice came up the stairs. Dad’s voice.

James looked at his bag. It was packed, his pair of shin-pads sticking out of one of the side pockets. Three days’ clothes. His football boots. A towel. Everything they were told to bring by Steve, the team manager, for a pre-Christmas tournament in London.

The under-twelves team were meeting at the United stadium that morning.

‘Yeah, Dad. I’m packed,’ James shouted back.

‘OK. We’ll head off to the stadium in half an hour.’

‘All right,’ James said. Then he frowned.

James Cunningham had schoolboy terms at United. He was one of the most promising under-twelves central defenders playing for a Premier League club.

His dad had played football for England in the 1980s. He’d scored the winner in a cup final. Then collected the trophy, because he was captain. And most people were sure that James had a spectacular career as a professional footballer ahead of him.

Like father, like son.

Only one person wasn’t so sure about that.

And that person was James.

Over the last few weeks he’d been questioning everything. And he’d come up with a terrifying answer: he wasn’t sure that he really wanted to be a professional footballer.

James lay on his bed and tried to remember the last month. He’d had two bad games for United. And for one game he’d pretended to his dad that he was ill, so he hadn’t even played.

It couldn’t go on like this, and James knew it.

Something had to happen.

He sat up and stared at his wall. There were posters of his favourite footballers, posters of his favourite bands.

He sighed.

He wasn’t thinking about giving up football because he didn’t like it. He did. He loved football. It was just that there was something else he wanted to do even more.

James glanced at the football-shaped clock on his bedside table, a present from his dad last Christmas. It said ten past ten. He had twenty minutes before they needed to leave.

He looked outside again. And his heart leaped.

It was snowing! It was really snowing. Snowing so hard that he couldn’t see the full-sized goal that his dad had had built at the end of their garden.

James left his bedroom and ran downstairs.

‘It’s snowing!’ he shouted. ‘Look at it.’

Mum came out of the front room, then Dad from the kitchen with a tea towel in his massive hands.

Mum shook her head, smiling. ‘So it is.’

‘Don’t be so happy about it, James,’ Dad said. ‘This could threaten the trip. We have to get down the motorway. Two hundred miles to London. I knew we should have set off first thing.’

‘Do you think it’ll be cancelled?’ James asked, aware he’d said it too excitedly – like he wanted it to be cancelled.

Dad frowned, as if sensing James’s real mood. ‘Maybe… No, not if we leave now. Let’s get going. Make sure no one’s for pulling out. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for weeks.’

Dad grabbed his jacket from the hooks in the hallway. Then he picked up his bag and snatched the car keys from the telephone table.

James realized that his

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