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The poet in football boots

Poets and novelists increasingly feel it incumbent upon them to talk about soccer when they're not writing about it, so it's only fair that those involved in soccer should start to see themselves as men of letters. I see that Paul Gascoigne will be signing copies of his authorised biography, Gazza, at Dillons on Thursday in what Dillons breathlessly announces is his "first ever book signing". It's quite easy, Paul. Hold the pen, don't kick it, and smile at the recipient. Avoid head-butting.

Anyway, it should be a snip for the boy. I see he has joined Jimmy Hill, whose versifying was reported in this column last week, in committing his thoughts on the great game, life and employer-employee relations to verse in a new book Over The Moon in aid of the British Sports Association for the Disabled.

Gazza's effort starts:

"Now Mel and Len both work for me

both working day and night

one's an accountant, one's a lawyer

making sure I'm all right."

Don't give up the day job just yet. Neither should John Motson - at least not for poetry. He offers a limerick, which comes as close to scanning as Hoddle came to staying at Chelsea:

"There was a young player named

Sleeper

Whose dream was to be a goalkeeper

He jumped up so high

That his head hit the sky

And next he met the Grim Reaper."

But these poets are temperamental types, sometimes wilting under the passions and anxieties that rage in their breasts. This was evident yesterday on Sky Sport when studio guest Gazza was asked whose shoes of the relegation candidates he would prefer to be in. "None of them," the versifier replied. "I'd rather be here in the studio than any of them bastards." Roll on the cricket season.

Bookish bookies

The ever-increasing links between literature and sport had me perusing the betting odds for the pounds 25,000 NCR book prize, Britain's major award for non-fiction, as I sauntered through Ladbrokes and William Hill over the weekend. I applaud the bringing together of bookies and book prizes, and hope we will soon see John McCrirrick of Channel 4 Racing livening up the interminable prize ceremonies by signalling the tic tac odds at the dinners - 10-1 on newly capped teeth for Martin Amis etc.

But while both betting shops seemed to agree completely on horseracing, football and snooker odds, they were poles apart at the weekend on the literary form. Ladbrokes has Simon Schama's Landscape And Memory as 6- 4 favourite, while William Hill makes it the 5-1 outsider of four. Hills makes Eric Lomax's The Railway Man hot favourite at 5-4, though it's little fancied third of four at 5-2 with Ladbrokes.

What's been going on? Alas, the odds setters have made the cardinal error of becoming too involved with the sport to make a clear-headed judgement. As Paul Austin of Ladbrokes says: "It took me longer than usual to set the odds because I found myself rather absorbed in the books."

Fun on the viola

The viola player has long been the butt of jokes by other members of the string section if not the whole orchestra, for reasons best known to musicians. Specialist classical music journals used to run regular viola jokes. And I see that there is now even a viola jokes page on the Internet. It contains such Wildean moments as "Why did the viola player marry the accordionist? Upward mobility." "What is the range of a viola? As far as you can kick it." How can you tell when a violist is playing out of tune? The bow is moving." What is worrying for viola players is that the Internet site has been visited by over 15,000 people. What exactly have they done to make so many enemies? I seek enlightenment, preferably accompanied by a few more jokes.

Cheating art

Bleary-eyed MPs waiting for the early morning bus to or from the Commons might suffer a few palpitations on seeing the new poster campaign. They can relax... I think. In menacing print, it warns: "We're picking out the cheats in Westminster." If they rub their eyes, they will see that it's an ad from Westminster City Council, cracking down on benefit fraud.

Eagle Eye

They have it. Do you?

There is nothing harder to define, I learn from the new Harpers and Queen, than allure. "More than beauty, more than charm, more than sex appeal, it is subtle, mysterious - and inescapable." An elusive quality indeed. So when the magazine sat down to compile its list of the 50 most alluring women in the world, I suppose you could reasonably expect a surprise or two. A quick skim of the chosen at the top of the list seems fair enough - Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Michelle Pfeiffer and Catherine Deneuve all make the top 10. But Nigella Lawson, "any of the Mitford sisters", and Ginny Elliot, that little-known horsey ex-horsewoman? What is going on? Sir Philip Dowson, president of the Royal Academy and one of the selection panel, provides a clue. "Allure is about danger, sharp intelligence. One would not necessarily want to live with such a person." Which must explain why Ruby Wax (above right) and Benazir Bhutto are apparently more alluring than Marilyn Monroe (above left)- who just scrapes in at number 50.

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