The new sporting craze: I need a celebrity - get me in there!

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The Independent Online

They say nostalgia isn't what it used to be. But actually it is – only more so. And it sells. Rubbing shoulders with sporting history, and those who made it, is now a burgeoning business, one that this week will stretch to new heights of fantasy for the nouveaux riches who yearn to mingle with the famous.

They say nostalgia isn't what it used to be. But actually it is – only more so. And it sells. Rubbing shoulders with sporting history, and those who made it, is now a burgeoning business, one that this week will stretch to new heights of fantasy for the nouveaux riches who yearn to mingle with the famous.

How many Arsenal supporters would love to boast to their mates, "I had a drink with that Tony Adams last night" – even if in this particular case it would be probably be a Perrier water – "and then we had a kickabout with Frank McLintock and Charlie George"?

What would a fight fan give to be able to declare in his local, "I've just come back from sparring in Lanzarote with Chris Eubank and I caught him in the cobblers with a left hook"?

Around three-and-a-half grand, in fact, which is roughly the going rate for a weekend of getting star-stricken, and the indication is that there will be no shortage of takers. This week an enterprise called "GB Legends" is to be launched aimed at making those sort of dreams come true – at a price. And there seems to be no shortage of takers.

They can arrange five-star celebrity weekends, where fans can eat, drink and be merry with past heroes of sport, absorbing dressing-room gossip, playing a round of golf or even taking them on at their own games.

Initially GB Legends will feature football and boxing, but there are plans to embrace other big sports including cricket and rugby. The legends industry is a billion-dollar one in the United States, where it began with baseball in the Eighties. There are now 112 countries involved in similar schemes, but this is the first in Europe.

Leo Pearlman, managing director of GB Legends, says: "This takes the idea of a pro-am golf tournament or a celebrity dinner to a new level, with fans sharing the same hotel, being able to buy their hero a beer at the bar, and spend an hour or so chatting to him or her, having their picture taken, and also getting the opportunity to train with or play against them.

"Our football fantasy camps, as we call them, will focus on four of the biggest clubs in England – Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham – and we have signed up a whole galaxy of former stars. For instance at the Arsenal Camp, 35 people can go to Portugal with Frank McLintock, Tony Adams, Charlie Nicholas, Charlie George, Graham Rix and Eddie Kelly. It's a dream come true."

Of course, there is a nice little drink in it for the "legends", too, as compensation for having to put up with the punters. These days old heroes need never die, or even fade away. They can simply go on the celebrity circuit, glad-handing, reminiscing, telling it how it was in sport's answer to variety's Good Old Days.

The company, who launch the scheme with a star-studded bash at Wentworth on Wednesday, say that the ex-world champion Naseem Hamed has agreed to entertain fans at a training camp in Tenerife. Other fight figures billed as being involved include Eubank, Nigel Benn, Barry McGuigan, Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns.

The boxing package, seems likely to be the most popular seller because of the enduring fascination for old fighters. This is emphasised with the current fad for bringing over ex-champions from the US for boxing-dinner evenings. The former world welterweight champion John H Stracey last month hosted one such occasion for Ken Norton, the heavyweight who broke Muhammad Ali's jaw. Four-hundred fans, paying £75 a head, packed a London Docklands hotel and Stracey says he could have sold at least twice that number of tickets. He is now planning similar nights with Roberto Duran and Joe Frazier. "There's something magical about boxing legends," says Stracey. "Even I find it awe-inspiring just to be in the company of these guys."

Most of the GB Legends A list are drawn from the Eighties or early Nineties, who attract followers of 30 to 40-year-olds, but there are also football heroes from way back, such as Liverpool's Ian St John and Tottenham's Dave Mackay and Martin Chivers.

So what is the fan base for the fantasy islanders? "Obviously, you get a lot of City boys with plenty of cash to spare, but there are also those who are the obsessive fans, for whom it is a once in a lifetime experience to spend some time on a personal basis with a team or a legend of their choice," says Pearlman.

"They see it as something worth saving up for, perhaps doing this instead of taking a holiday. A lot of people will buy the package as a present for their partner for a birthday or anniversary. It can even be arranged for a chosen celebrity to ring up and offer greetings on the occasion and personally extend the invitation to go away with them for a weekend."

Oh, and anyone for tennis? With Wimbledon a few weeks away, another company are offering a champagne brunch with John McEnroe and Pat Cash in a nearby Georgian mansion before being transported to the Championships at a cost of up to £5,000 per couple (tickets are sold only in pairs).

It is all part of a fascinating new fame game which might be called, "I need a celebrity – get me in there!"

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