ETCETERA / Home thoughts

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I don't feel that I've had a really good grasp of the World Cup this year, but I've gleaned a few bits and pieces through the living-room door. This is what I know:

Sweden - funny names (eg, Brolene, Mild). Ireland - tried hard, but weather too hot for them. Bulgaria - good. Romania - unlucky. Germany - boring. England - not there. Maradona - fat.

It's not a lot, I admit. And it's certainly not been enough to allow me to engage in deep and meaningful conversation with my husband when he emerges from the living-room saying, 'That was a brilliant goal.'

Luckily, I have my football trump card, which is to retell the tale of My Date With Franz Beckenbauer. I wheel it out every so often, just to show willing. Naturally all my friends have heard it before, but today seems like an appropriate time to resurrect the story.

It was 1986, just after the World Cup had finished. I was 25, and working in New York at the time. A friend invited me to lunch one day at a smart Manhattan restaurant; he was late, as usual, but the head waiter ushered me to the table where another guest was also waiting for my friend.

'Hello,' I said. 'My name is Justine.'

'Hello,' he said. 'My name is Franz. Franz Beckenbauer.'

The name sounded familiar. I racked my brains, and remembered. German] German football person] I had, in fact, watched a few World Cup matches that year, but not many. And I couldn't remember who had won. Should I offer commiserations or congratulations? In the end, I just smiled brightly, and said 'This has been an exciting World Cup, hasn't it? I do so love watching football.'

Franz knew rather more than I did. 'What a pity about England,' he said.

'Mmm, yes, terrible shame,' I said.

'It would be better if England, Scotland and Wales combined into one team,' he said.

'Yes' I said. 'What a good idea.'

The conversation staggered along like this for a good hour or so, because our friend didn't arrive until after 2 o'clock. By then, Franz and I had covered a number of topics: Germany - jolly fine team; England - not so good as Germany; America - no good at all.

Despite our conversational difficulties, Franz seemed like a nice chap. My father has always declared that all Germans are vile Nazis, apart from the Jewish ones, and Franz didn't look very Jewish to me. I didn't actually ever get the chance to ask him about his religious origins, though I did meet him once more, at a party. I can't remember what we talked about on that occasion. Football, I expect.

Anyway, when I got back to London I mentioned this brief encounter to some male friends and my credibility rating soared. Sadly, the effect soon wore off, so I had to embellish the story slightly over the years (The Night Franz Beckenbauer Fell In Love With Me . . . that sort of thing). But I'm still a bit shaky on the facts. Who exactly is Franz Beckenbauer, anyway?

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