Brian Viner: There's only one Terry Venables - or is there?

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The Independent Football

The latest edition of one of my local papers, the Shropshire Star, features a large front-page photograph of a young man who, on a moonless night from 350 yards, might be mistaken for a distant relative of Tim Henman.

His name is Andrew Wicks, the Star informs us, and he works at the Boathouse Coffee-shop in Ellesmere, where apparently customers have been remarking on his resemblance to Britain's best tennis player. "Henman is such a lovable guy and, to be honest, Andrew - or Tim, as I call him - has the same type of character," said the Boathouse owner, Charles Roberts. "With a bit more height and slightly darker hair he would be a dead ringer."

So, Andrew is a lookalike, which is not a bad thing to be, for we live in the age of the look-alike. Admittedly, we also live in the age of the internet and space exploration, but there is something about the preoccupation with lookalikes that sums up contemporary mores: ersatz, superficial, fixated with celebrity, that kind of thing.

Which is not to say that I disapprove. I have, in fact, been known to get quite enthusiastic on the subject of lookalikes. Indeed, one of my favourite holiday anecdotes concerns a lookalike. About 15 years ago, some friends and I went skiing in Bulgaria - which was then an excitingly avant garde thing to do - and one night we took a sleigh ride into the middle of a dense pine forest. There we dined in a log cabin on the local speciality, which as I recall was a coiled sausage bearing a disturbing similarity to a dog turd, although far more striking was the similarity between our Bulgarian host and the actor Peter Bowles. We sniggered between ourselves as he served us, and he said in a long-suffering way: "I know, I know. Pitter Bolls. To Ze Manor Bloody Born."

But what are the best sporting doppelgangers of our time? Feel free to contact me with suggestions. For example, it struck me during the first week of Wimbledon that the unseeded American Todd Martin bears a distinct resemblance to the Sunderland manager Mick McCarthy. And The Independent's esteemed sports editor tells me that he once saw a pair of pictures from which it was hardly possible to distinguish Perry Groves, the footballer, from the comic-book hero Tintin. He also points out that Gary Neville is a ringer for Hayley, the transsexual in Coronation Street. And I know that Neville's erstwhile clubmate, David Beckham, once featured in Private Eye as a Stan Laurel lookalike.

Private Eye has also drawn our attention to the similarity between Bernie Ecclestone and Andy Warhol. But my favourite from its lookalike section remains a snarling Lee Bowyer alongside a snarling Orc, a monster from some Hollywood science-fiction blockbuster. It is hard to say which of them you would less like to meet down a dark alley. Orc, probably.

Sometimes lookalikes are pressed into action of necessity, when describing a person on the radio, for example. I listened to quite a bit of Wimbledon coverage on Radio Five Live and the German quarter-finalist Alexander Popp was described as a tall version of Steve Cram, while Claire Balding thought Sebastien Grosjean was strikingly reminiscent of Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen. If only the Frenchman's tennis had resembled that of the effete interior designer. That Andrew Wicks lookalike, Henman, might not have got knocked out until the semi-final stage.

Anyway, what brings me to the subject of lookalikes is an e-mail from one Mike Baess, who alerts me to a worldwide search by internet company One.Tel to find 1,000 people who look like Terry Venables. They will then be paraded at a Tel Convention to take place in the autumn, where apparently the man himself will help to judge those who most resemble him at various stages of his life, grandly billed as "the five great ages of Tel".

A One.Tel spokesman, Russell Craig, says: "There are millions of Terries, but for people all over the world, there can only ever be one Tel. El Tel is the unrecognised modern-day equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci - a polymath and innovator who can turn his hand to many things. As well as managing a string of the world's great soccer teams, Tel has also been a singer of repute and a scriptwriter for TV drama - an incredible achievement." The supreme silliness of this exercise is unarguable, and obviously the One.Tel crowd have their tongues firmly in their cheeks, quite a trick to pull off while also licking the Venables backside.

Not that the great man entirely gets away without a lampooning. "Judges will be inflexible on the candidates' use of language," says the One.Tel press release. "Only true Tel-speak will be allowed if they are to reach the finals." And the examples of Tel-speak quoted? "Apart from their goals, Norway haven't scored." And "If history repeats itself, I should think we can expect the same thing again." When contestants in a lookalike contest are also judged on the quality of their Colemanballs, I reckon it's time to run for the hills.