Blair & Sir Alex help out cash-strapped Labour

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LONDON (Reuters) - If you’ve ever fancied playing tennis with former Prime Minister Tony Blair or having lunch with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, be prepared to pay thousands of pounds for the pleasure.

The cash-strapped Labour Party holds its sports dinner and auction at Wembley Stadium on Thursday and the event has already raised a six-figure sum from advance bids.

The tennis match with Blair and lunch with Ferguson, who has just guided United to the Premier League and Champions League titles, have each received five-figure bids, with newspapers reporting Ferguson having attracted a 50,000-pound bid.

A specially commissioned work by artist Antony Gormley -- best known for his 20-metre tall “Angel of the North,” and the chance to be a character in former Labour Party spin doctor Alastair Campbell’s new novel are also in demand.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown can do with all the help he can get, with the Labour Party carrying debts of 25 million pounds.

Ferguson urged Brown to fight on, equating the Labour Party’s precarious political position with United’s ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in two Champions League finals during his tenure as manager.

In 1999 a last-gasp goal from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave United a 2-1 win over Bayern Munich in Barcelona, while in May Ferguson’s team beat Chelsea on penalties in Moscow after Blues captain John Terry missed with a spot-kick to win the game.

Other items up for grabs include tea at Claridge’s with former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson’s partner Nancy Dell’Olio and the chance to have former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott serve you as a waiter.

Reporting by John Joseph; Editing by Steve Addison