What's suitable reading for our boys?

MY eye was caught this week by a topless pic in a national paper. Nosurprise there, then. No surprise, either, that the photo was almostcertainly taken through a long lens without the knowledge or permission ofthe famous person involved.

MY eye was caught this week by a topless pic in a national paper. No

surprise there, then. No surprise, either, that the photo was almost

certainly taken through a long lens without the knowledge or permission of

the famous person involved.

Unflattering pics of celebrities in various states of undress on holiday

beaches have long been a staple of a certain type of paper. And this week we were also treated to pics of David Beckham scratching himself, and unaware of the camera.

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Apart from the obvious pleasures of voyeurism, these images generally serve

two paradoxical purposes.

They promote the cult of the personality. And they demonstrate that in the

raw, famous people are just as flabby, gawky and imperfect as the rest of


In this case, the sagging breasts, paunchy belly and blotched skin could

have been those of any middle-aged to elderly British bloke lounging in the

sun. In fact it was the Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson winding

down after another stressful Premiership season.

But what struck me was what he was doing. Reading a book. What strange

behaviour for a British man.

Frustratingly, the angle and size of the picture didn't let you identify

Sir Alex's choice of holiday reading.

Could it have been Harry Potter? Or Lord of the Rings? Presumably not

something improving, like Dickens? And surely not My Side, the

"autobiography" of David Beckham?

Much the same questions came to mind when I heard that the England squad had arrived at their European Championship base outside Lisbon. There, the

lads await their games against France, Switzerland and Croatia in conditions

of high security.

When not training, eating or sleeping, they are apparently expected to amuse

themselves with a "man's selection" of CDs, DVDs ? and books.

Now what do you suppose the Football Association considers appropriate

reading matter for our brave boys? I think we should be told.

One major publisher has hit on a whacky wheeze to boost blokes' reading of

novels. They've hired a glamour model to look out for guys reading selected

books in public and hand one lucky chap a £1,000 prize.

However bizarre - and curiously old-fashioned - that scheme may be, it shows

real concern that chaps simply don't read as much as women do. Unless, of

course, it's the kind of papers which print pictures of celebrities going

topless on holiday.

Now if the England squad would only let on what our sporting heroes are

reading, it might boost sales almost as much as a plug on Richard and Judy.

Captain Beckham may be the accredited author of a book about his favourite

subject - himself - but it's hard to imagine him actually reading anything

longer or more literary than a txt msg. But what about the rest of the boys?

Their mobile library might include: Campbell's Kingdom, Neville's Island,

Robinson Crusoe, The King and I, James the Red Engine, Scholes For Scandal.

Oh, I could go on, but it's probably all A Bridge Too Far. As, probably,

will be England's likely second-round clash with Portugal or Spain.

ISN'T it extraordinary how times like this - the build-up to major football

tournaments - bring out the flag-waving kid in grown men all round the


I don't just mean those now sporting those silly plastic objects clipped to

the windows of every third car you see. I mean all those supposed

"experts" who should (and in reality probably do) know better than to tip

England for glory.

What on earth makes apparently sane people like Terry Venables and even the

thinking-man's Frenchman, Arsene Wenger, name England as likely runners-up - and even possible winners - at Euro 2004?

Haven't they noticed that England's manager still doesn't know what his best

midfield formation is?

Can they be blind to the fact that he persists in picking players out of


Don't they realise he is so out of touch with reality that he persists in

believing David James and Emile Heskey are players of international quality?

Having said all of which, it does remain possible England might reach the


Not because they're that good - any team from the top half of the

Premiership would surely give them a pasting - but because there are

question marks against most of the other teams too.

The exception is France. The current French side is much better, and more

exciting, than their 1998 team, who were such lucky World Cup winners.

It is simply impossible to see any other country lifting the European crown

on July 4.