Football: Even Ravanelli has problems finding a bed

At Large In France
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The Independent Online
10.45 pm: IMAGINE THE three tenors, then multiply by an extremely large number. Now add green, white and blue stripes to their faces. Fortunately, the song they are all singing is simple enough even for me to join in: "Ital-ia, Ital-ia, Ital-ia".

I have spent the first half in the Bistro Romana, the second in the Marco Polo Pizzeria. The third half' gets underway on the Place de la Comedie where a giant screen has been showing the Italy-Cameroon game. Stoic Cameroonians depart. For a night, Montpellier belongs to Italy. Small but enthusiastic bands (mainly drums and hooters) are striking up all over town.

Midnight: Ils sont fous ces Romains, as Asterix and Obelix say. Several men in legionnaire costumes are gyrating on the stage in front of the town hall. General flag-waving and chanting continues. In a harmonious spirit of globalisation, dozens of Danes and a lone Scot have joined in. A few Italians lie unconscious in doorways. A pair of identical twins, Bruno and Stefano, adopt me as a sort of mascot and persist in calling me Ravanelli, despite my poor Italian. "Hey! Fabrizio, why weren't you playing?" I swear I have toasted Italy around a hundred times when I think about calling it a night.

"You must have a girlfriend waiting for you," they say, goosing me. "Is she beautiful?" I explain to them I'm just looking for a bed for the night. But they refuse to believe me. "Can we see your girlfriend, please?"

1.00 am: Finding a bed in Montpellier is not as easy as it sounds. All the hotels have "complet" signs up, but a couple had virtually guaranteed they would have places freeing up after midnight as guests failed to make it back for the night. In the event, they stay full. Oh, oh. I could always sleep in the back of my hire car. It's a good idea, but I don't have a hire car. And it is too late to hire one.

1.30 am: I drop into Pixel, a kind of Internet cafe, but without the cafe. I log on and check out the WC98 site and discover that Asprilla has been sent home for criticising the Colombian coach. Oh well, at least he has a bed. I play a game called "Total Annihilation" and lose.

2.30 am: Hanging out in the station themselves, the CRS police refuse to let me hang out in the station. There is a "terrorist threat", apparently. I am relaxed about this, however, having already figured out Plan B.

2.35 am: Merde! Plan B goes up in smoke. They have locked the park opposite the station. I was counting on that park as a last resort. Back in the main square the Danes and the Scot have dropped out, but the Italians are still raging, literally playing with fire as they "borrow" some flaming juggling clubs from a juggler. Bruno and Stefano are dancing in one of the fountains.

3.00 am: I pay 75F to get into the "Rock House" (or "Rock Store"? It's all a blur). No, I am not planning to dance, just desperate for a place to collapse. Big mistake. The joint isn't just jumping, it is heaving. The floorboards are throbbing beneath my feet. So much so that I start to feel sea-sick. I finally find a spot to sit down, but merry-makers keep treading on my feet.

4 am: Head to the Esplanade to find a quiet bench to kip on in the fresh air. I don't care if I never hear rap again. But the city council has cunningly installed a bar across the middle of the benches to stop you lying down. So I sit there stolidly. In France this is not sleeping rough, it's sleeping a la belle etoile. Wish someone hadn't nicked my denim jacket back in Saint Raphael though. But it's a fine night. I'll be OK.

4.30 am: A well-armed CRS man rudely wakens me. It is not permitted to sleep on the benches. OK, OK, I'm going.

4.45 am: Bruno and Stefano catch me going nowhere and say various things I don't fully understand, but having to do with my non-existent girlfriend. "Hey! Fabrizio, why weren't you playing?" they say for roughly the thousandth time, laughing hysterically and holding one another up as they reel off into the night.

5 am: Dawn. Claiming to be catching the 6am train to Nice, I sneak into the station and flake out in a heap in the corner. Buona notte.

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