Player's fictional sidekick is booted into limelight

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He is the top scorer in his league. He is the star of advertising billboards and football magazines. And he has been instrumental in the dramatic rise of sales of football boots up and down the country.

When Umbro wanted to promote its new range of Speciali boots, it decided to picture Britain's most famous striker and the top Premier League scorer of last year, Alan Shearer, with a series of comments about the boots: "Umbro Speciali boots helped me become the League's top scorer" and "Umbro Speciali boots reduce the risk of injury." Only the comments were not attributed to Shearer, but to his advertising sidekick Kevin Haines, a fictitious striker for the fictitious team Botley Booters.

At last the real identity of this "striker" can be revealed. He is Steve McCabe, a copywriter at the advertising agency Lowe Howard-Spink. The advert has caused a few problems for Mr McCabe, who has been confused by many people with Kevin Haines. There are several differences. Neither Mr Haines nor Mr McCabe has yet been confused with Mr Shearer.

Kevin Haines is 26, scored 63 goals for Botley Booters in the Sidcup Social League, and is completing a course in pie studies at Botley Tech.

Steve McCabe is a 28-year-old copywriter, who worked for the Dharsi Masius Benton and Bowles agency for two years before moving this week to the Lowe Howard-Spink agency. A Cardiff City supporter, h#e used to play football every three weeks and is more of an "all-round team player". He had never been to Sidcup until after the advert was made.

Alan Shearer, 25, plays for English champions Blackburn Rovers and has been capped 17 times for England. Last season, he scored 34 goals and was voted PFA Player of the Year.

Steve McCabe decided to do the advert in February after his then agency asked him to pose with Alan Shearer.

"I thought, why not? The photographer asked Alan Shearer to look at me, as if to say, 'Who the hell is this guy?' and he was very good at that. I didn't mind. I write ads myself and so it didn't bother me.

"Most people didn't consider that Kevin was a real thing but my friends have complained. They nearly crashed their cars when they saw me on a giant billboard with Alan Shearer. I am angry because a football magazine has accused me of not being a footballer and I used to play for our works side. In fact, I'm looking for a Sunday league side at the moment, so if anyone's interested ..." There are other crucial differences between Shearer and McCabe. The England striker has a lucrative contract - estimated at about pounds 2m - to wear Umbro Boots until 2003. Steve McCabe was paid a nominal modelling fee and given a free pair of football boots.

"In fact," he recalled, "when I met Alan Shearer, he said, 'I hope you're getting paid for this, because I'm not.' It was in his contract to do the advert."

An Umbro spokesman said yesterday: "The campaign has been a great success and it's raised the awareness level of Umbro and our boots. We'll be featuring Kevin in more of our ads."