Rooney the 'Saviour' kicks off an unholy row

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The Independent Online

* On the day Wayne Rooney returned to England's starting line-up, off-the-pitch activities have once more put him in the firing line.

The Liverpudlian superhero's new Nike advert - pictured right - has upset right-wing Christians, who see it as a "bastardised" portrayal of the Crucifixion.

In the billboard poster, unveiled to great ceremony this week, the striker appeared with arms outstretched, and red paint across his naked front.

Since Rooney is England's supposed saviour, critics believe this to be an unwieldy attempt to draw parallels between his swift return from injury and Christ's Resurrection.

The pressure group Christian Voice - which has run a long, noisy campaign against Jerry Springer: the Opera - yesterday issued a stern condemnation of the Nike poster.

"The cross is so iconic that it sadly being often used in advertising in a tasteless manner," said the organisation's national director, Stephen Green.

"There are surely other ways for Nike to get their message across. Footballers are exalted celebrities. I'm not blaming the players, but their agents should think a little more carefully about the kind of publicity they get sucked into."

Nike, for its part, denied that the poster was designed to offend.

"This shot is not intended to have religious connotations," said a spokesman. "It's a celebration of Wayne Rooney's unique goal celebration style represented with a St George Cross. Wayne celebrates with his arms outstretched."

* It always sounded too good to be true. David Hasselhoff yesterday pulled the plug on his eagerly awaited pantomime debut.

The former Baywatch star withdrew from the New Wimbledon Theatre's Christmas production of Peter Pan, citing "TV commitments".

It's a snub to both his co-star Bobby Davro, and to the many followers of this great British tradition.

However, their loss is Simon Cowell's gain. For I gather that the Hoff will instead be fronting the music mogul's new US show America's Got Talent.

Although Hasselhoff's appearance as Captain Hook was announced more than a month ago, a spokesman for the theatre said that he'd withdrawn from the show without breaking a contract.

"It was an unfortunate clash of dates," I'm told. "We are in talks to get a major star instead, and will be making an announcement soon."

* Katie Price - the novelist and glamour model better-known as Jordan - offers an intriguing tribute to her spiritual godmother, Lady Godiva.

To celebrate the launch of her debut potboiler, Angel, next month, she intends to trot through central London on horseback.

"Details are vague," say Publishing News. "But Price is to ride down Oxford Street, dressed as an angel, to promote the book."

The publishers, Arrow, are seeking clearance from the clipboard merchants of Westminster Council. "We haven't got the official go ahead yet, but we are planning something pretty special for the launch," says a spokesman.

* Eight days shy of polling-day, and it's gone "right off" in the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election.

The Tory candidate, Bob Neill, has got his agent to send a stern legal warning to his UK Independence Party rival, Nigel Farage. It concerns a UKIP campaign poster that claims: "Neill supports European Union, high taxes and unlimited immigration."

Neill reckons this "defamatory," and wants the posters scrapped. "Failing this," he writes, "I will instruct lawyers to seek an injunction, restraining further publication of such material, and to seek damages."

Farage is sticking to his guns, though. "Mr Farage considers his own campaign literature to be entirely accurate and truthful," reads a reply. "He will not provide the undertaking required, and will firmly resist any proceedings you may care to issue."

Over to you, Bob!

* Gordon Brown makes a big deal of supporting England, and invited some journalists to Downing Street to watch the game against Trinidad & Tobago.

Then last night, the canny Jock - who recently claimed that Paul Gascoigne's 1996 goal against Scotland was "the best I've ever seen" - pitched up in Cologne to watch Sven's team take on Sweden.

Critics believe this a cynical PR exercise. But what do Brown's supposed friends think? In February, his former spin-doctor Charlie Whelan wrote: "I once sat next to the Chancellor at an England v Scotland match. He didn't speak to me for weeks, just because I leapt out of my seat when England scored, and we went on to win.

Back then, Whelan reckoned: "The nation will rejoice at having a Prime Minister who doesn't tell porkies about his love for the national game."