Football: When 90 minutes lasts the night

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The Independent Online
Saturday is not the night for a football match that means so much. Adam Szreter looks forward anxiously to an experience that will tax friendships and upset domestic life.

Thank God we don't play football every Saturday night. How do the Spanish and the French manage it? This week has been bad enough, trying to get the message through to your other half, your non-footballing half, that you just aren't going to be in a normal frame of mind come 7.45 tonight.

I decided to invite some friends around, but the first one had exactly the same problem. "Well, I'm going to be watching it, but Cath's not really very keen on football," he said.

"Well that's fine," I replied, "because neither is Jane. They can, er, go in the kitchen or something, and talk. I'm going to invite a few other people and they won't all be interested in the football." "Er, yes." He didn't sound too convinced.

"We can lay on some food, nothing formal, a buffet type thing," I said, "and it's not as though it goes on all evening."

You always think it only lasts 90 minutes, you never legislate for pre- match, post-match, half-time, injury time. At least there won't be extra time and penalties. Shame.

One person I won't be inviting is my new friend Paolo. We reached a very early decision not to watch the match together. It was soon after I'd gone round to see the Manchester United-Juventus game with Paolo and his friend.

It was mostly pretty civilised. I agreed that Brian Moore was not the most impartial commentator and I was quick to concede that Sheringham had been yards offside when Scholes scored United's second, soon after the half-time pizza had arrived. I wondered if that was what Italians do when they watch a football match. We drink beer, they eat pizza.

It all went uncomfortably quiet after Deschamps was sent off. No complaints from Paolo, just the dawning realisation that the unthinkable was about to happen and Juventus were going to lose.

Paolo put a call through on Wednesday, ostensibly to give me his new address but really to wish me bad luck for Saturday. He said Ian Wright was the one they feared most, and agreed that threatening to arrest Paul Gascoigne as soon as he arrived in Italy was not really in the spirit of things. I wished him good luck in the play-offs.

I rang my friend David in Rome, who will watch the match in the square around the corner from his office, where they've erected a giant screen, and he'd also placed an order with his local flower shop.

After Italy had beaten England at Wembley in February, he arrived at work to find a bunch of chrysanthemums on his desk, the traditional mark of respect at an Italian funeral. "I'm looking forward to this," he said. "This is my moment."

I hadn't the heart to point out that, when it comes to the crunch, England invariably lose. If only it could be different this time. But please, whatever the outcome, never again on a Saturday night.

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