Literature: The existential game

Next time someone asks you to sum up England's chances, you could always hit them with a haiku - "High expectations/ And low quality defence / Bad combination". Don't thank me, thank Pele's World Cup Poetry Workshop website, which has a neat 17-syllable line on each of the teams taking part this year. Concision in football writing is greatly to be valued these days - the body of work being sprung on us by publishers this summer has the bloated appearance of a gone-to-seed striker.

There will be those for whom Philosophy Football - a festival devoted to footie culture taking place today at the South Bank Centre - will be empirical proof that the end of civilisation is nigh. Some 2,000 fans are expected to invade this temple of high culture to hear living legends discourse (George Best, George Weah, Jim Baxter - the list of speakers is almost as exhaustive as Final Score on Grandstand) and sample an array of artforms - ballet, theatre, visual arts, film - all inspired by the great game.

One of the main objectives is simply, according to organiser Mark Perriman, to give London its own football fiesta. But there's more to it than that. Perriman, former political scientist and author of Philosophy Football - billed as Fever Pitch meets Sophie's World - believes that football is not just a way of life, it's a system of thought. His book is a scholarly digest of the soccer dialogues of academia's premier league (you can buy the T-shirt), maxims such as Nietzsche's "My idea of paradise is a straight line to goal"- there was no room, alas, for Eric Cantona. When you hear that Philosophy Football includes a discussion between the director of the Norman Chester Centre for Football Research and a professor of sociology, it sounds like Perriman has scored a satirical own-goal.

Fortunately, a real taste of the terraces is being supplied by a coachload of performance poets. John Citizen is running an open mic spot called "The bard's done good" (10.45am) and Vic Lambrusco is in charge of some foul-mouthed non-league versifiers in "Who wants it?" (2pm). Both have been busy penning odes to Gazza. There's also a showing from the Stroud Football Poets, the world's only football poetry collective. All together now: who's the geezer, who's the geezer, who's the geezer reading Kant?

'Philosophy Football', RFH, SBC, London, SE1 (0171-960 4242) today pounds 8.50 / pounds 4.50 conc 10am-10pm

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