Author and former football manager touched by Finlay's tale

What links a boy with Cerebral Palsy, a children’s author and a former Scotland international football manager?

The answer is a love of football, and how an Aberdeenshire school has been supporting a 12-year-old P7 pupil develop his reading skills.

Gail Sangster’s son Finlay has been inspired to read through the Jamie Johnson series, a collection of books about football written by Dan Freedman which have been shown on the BBC, with the support from Stonehaven primary school Mill O’Forest.

Gail said: “Finlay has a few issues with his eye muscles so scanning pages and keeping track of what he is reading can be incredibly hard and very tiring for him. He thoroughly enjoys reading but accessing books can also be a challenge, as he needs help to turn the pages and hold a book in a good position.

“The school have been incredibly supportive of Finlay from day one. He has been fully included in all aspects of school life. He is very lucky to have had two amazing pupil support assistants throughout his seven years at Mill O’Forest, who can read him like a book; they know when he is a bit under the weather and know exactly how to support him when things are a wee bit much for him.”

Gail, who is also a teacher, praised head teacher Trish Marchant and his class teachers for removing any barriers to Finlay’s learning and ensuring he is always an integral part of the school community.

Rangers FC fan Finlay was given the first of Dan’s books as a present and quickly became a devotee. Gail said he loved the book so much they were soon on his wish list for Christmas and birthdays.

Author of the Jamie Johnson series Dan said: “It is not an overstatement to say it makes all the hard work of writing the books worth it. To know that Finlay is enjoying the books is hugely rewarding and inspirational.”

And Finlay’s story has inspired former Scotland and Aberdeen FC football manager Craig Brown to arrange for Finlay to meet author Dan in the perfect setting.

Craig’s daughter is a teacher at an Ayrshire school and uses Dan’s books to encourage children who are struggling with reading. Craig was sent a letter by Dan about Finlay and his enjoyment of the books, so the ex-football manager decided to arrange to meet them both.

Craig said: “I have been incredibly moved by Finlay’s story and wanted to do something to help. Finlay is a passionate football fan and loves to read so I thought I could combine his pleasures by inviting him to Pittodrie Stadium so he could meet Dan and me. I hope this special event makes one boy who has overcome a great deal very happy.”

Cllr Gillian Owen, Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee chair, said: “Finlay’s story is truly heartwarming and inspirational. I am delighted that teachers and pupils have been able to make such a positive difference to Finlay. Teachers are highly dedicated professionals who strive to provide as much support to every child irrespective of their background.

“It is fantastic to see high profile figures from the world of sport and children’s literature have taken an interest in Finlay and Dan’s books have provided him with so much pleasure.”

Committee vice-chair, Cllr Mark Findlater, said: “As a young loon I really enjoyed reading books, my first being Huckleberry Finn. Spending time engrossed in a book, imagining past times and far off places and adventures is a great way of spending a caul wet afternoon.

“It’s great to see that Finlay is setting an example to other bairns reminding them that having a disability is not a barrier to enjoying life. Reading encourages the imagination and develops creativity while taking part in sport and regular exercise improves and maintains health and wellbeing. Good on you Finlay, keep it up.”