Football fanatic Matthew Cottle doesn't mind playing a soccer hater in An Evening With Gary Lineker, he tells Viv Hardwick. The actor is also about to be unleashed on TV audiences in the autmn as a swinger.

MATTHEW Cottle almost accepts defeat at the start of our interview... he's had a bluetooth mobile phone ear attachment for three days and admits he can't turn it on.

"I need my six-year-old son to sort this out. I'm rubbish at these things," he curses.

But push-button technology restored, the actor discusses the prospect of being a World Cup fan recruited to star in the comedy play An Evening With Gary Lineker, which launches the Ian Dickens' Productions four-week summer season at Darlington Civic Theatre next week.

Set on July 4, 1990, the infamous date of the England-Germany World Cup semi-final in Italy, writers Arthur Smith and Chris England flesh out the scene of Majorca holidaymakers making plans to watch the game. Monica (played by Hollyoak's star Katherine Dow Blyton) fantasies of an affair with Gary Lineker while holidaying with husband Bill, then her lover Dan turns up at the hotel. A comedy kick-off.

"It's very exciting to do a play about football after 16 years being an actor and I'm playing the one character in it who absolutely detests the game. That's the way it goes," he jokes about "complete prat Ian, who has hooked up with a German rep to watch the semi with Gazza crying and England losing on penalties".

Cottle, who specialises in comedy losers such as Martin in the successful BBC1 sitcom Game On, was well-prepared for a role calling for a "complete pillock".

"I think I'm really like the two guys in play who are football nuts and laddish types. I'm a season ticket holder at Arsenal and went to the Champions' League Final in Paris. So I'm more normal than the character I'm playing... at least I hope I am," he adds.

SO does the football fan in him fear the prospect of being involved in a stageplay in Darlington for a matinee and evening performance while England are playing Trinidad & Tobago in Germany on Thursday?

"Good question, I should be able to see most games during the run, but this may be a question of having the telly on in the wings and going on and giving each other little hand signals. It could be 'if the beer bottle's in my left hand then England have scored' that sort of thing. We'll have to work all this out.

"This is an ideal play at the moment and I think, apart from when England are playing, we're going to do very good business because the words really come off the page and I never thought twice about doing this. My kids, who are eight and six, who have shown no interest in football up to now, are saying they want the England kit and the sticker books," he says.

Cottle is overjoyed to be appearing at Darlington's Civic Theatre again, having starred in a run of The Sunshine Boys three years ago with Ron Moody. His all-time favourite job so far has been starring in Way Upstream at Scarborough's Stephen Joseph in 2003 and being directed by Alan Ayckbourn, who is currently recovering from a stroke.

"It was a privilege working with him, and the latest I've heard is that he hopes to come back and direct the later plays in the current series called Intimate Exchanges. I've heard Alan might even be writing another play this year, probably about his experience knowing him," he says.

A modest voice of sanity in a starstruck world, Cottle was offered a role by Ian Dickens having been recommended by Peter Amory, the ex-Emmerdale actor, who also appears in the play.

"I toured with Peter in a play called Party Piece, with George Cole, and we got on very well and he introduced me to Ian Dickens. So I've got a lot to thank Peter for, which I think he's going to remind me about every time we go for a drink. I don't normally do the network thing so it's worked out for me quite well," he laughs.

Cottle's decided that some of the language in An Evening With Gary Lineker is just a little too strong for his children to watch but he recalls letting them view the second half of Party Piece because his character arrived on stage in a bright pink chiffon dress.

"I also had a moustache which just looked ridiculous and I thought my kids would find that very amusing, which they did," he says.

TV-wise his career continues to move forward and he's about to star in Caroline Quentin's comedy-drama series Life Begins on ITV1 as a seemingly ordinary next-door neighbour with a saucy secret.

"Me and my wife appear to be normal but we happen to be swingers and we ask her and her husband around for dinner because we think they are swingers as well. My wife goes upstairs and I take them upstairs and they arrive in the bedroom to find her naked and comedy kicks off. It's one of the best scenes I've seen written by Mike Bullen, who created Cold Feet, and it's due to run in September," said Cottle.

"I was quite surprised I got the part because I don't usually land that type of role, but I think they were looking for a Mr Normal rather than a fantastically good-looking guy to add to the shock. So they went for the ginger-haired geezer with the big nose who doesn't look like he'd get sex with anybody," he laughs.

* An Evening With Gary Lineker runs from Tuesday until Saturday at Darlington's Civic Theatre. Box Office: (01325) 486555