Football: OUTSIDE EDGE: Gazza has a magic wand

I DON'T KNOW about you but, just like Bryan Robson, I seem to have become a real sucker for the game's most outlandish character. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone either. Even our Kevin says he'll consider him for England.

We're punters, for God's sake. We need titillating. And let's face it, nobody gets on people's tits quite like Gazza. In a loveable way, of course.

Take Anfield last Saturday week. Approaching the ground, everybody had an extra spring in their step. Now some might attribute that to those experimental rubber pavements the Corpy has recently put down. And, in truth, they were a bit on the spongy side. But, hey, how then do you explain the fact that so many people around the ground were acting like complete tossers or that every chippy between Anfield and Ankara had run out of doner kebabs?

Point taken?

Nor did Gazza's magic let us down on the pitch either.

Ten minutes gone. Gazza on the penalty spot. Back to the Kop goal. Flanked by three Liverpool defenders. Kills an impossible high ball on his chest. Stone dead. It drops to his knee and he flicks it over his head. Then, while it's still in the air, he only goes and whips out a pair of those plastic breasts and flashes them at a startled Kop. I mean, is he a rascal or what? Then, as the ball comes down, he opens his mouth and swallows the blessed thing.

Now that is wizardry by anyone's standards. Pele. Freddie Starr. Marvin The Sword-Swallower. You name it. The sort you may only ever witness once in a lifetime. Twice, if you're one of those stuffy so-and-so's who always win the pub spot-the-balls.

Anyway, the incident set me thinking. Broader issues began to loom large. Would Gazza ever manage to pass that ball? Where would the game be without characters like him? Could we handle 22 Stig Inge Bjornebyes playing each other week after week?

You know what I'm getting at. Picture the scene.

A typical bleak Saturday afternoon in February. Driving rain, biting wind, Wimbledon the visitors. Your mates at the door. Coal fire blazing. What should you do? Go with them and suffer a Mogadon onslaught? Or stay at home and iron out the creases on your granny's bottom?

No contest!

"Granny, where are you? Come to Alsy. Come and get your wrinkles done. There's a good girl."

Of course, if Joe Kinnear had just signed Gazza, then you've a different ball game entirely. Not even a Force 10 hailstorm could keep you indoors. Even if you were busy smoothing Michelle Pfeiffer's bottom.

"Er, sorry, Michelle girl. 'Fraid I'll have to pass on this one. Gazza's playing. I'll, er, give you a ring when I get back from the match, eh pet?

Perhaps we can do it again some other time?"

OK, so maybe that's stretching things too far. Perhaps you'd dash back home during half-time?

Surely, though, you get my point?