Jonathan Thompson: I went for a quiet stroll on the beach, and ended up playing against Brazil

Jonathan Thompson does a 'Guy Goma' in Cannes as he is drafted into a celebrity football match against World Cup stars
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The Independent Online

Their names are an indelible part of World Cup history: Dunga, Bebeto, Aldair, Mauro Silva, Leonardo, Taffarel - all members of the Brazil team that won the tournament in the United States in 1994. How on earth had I ended up on the pitch with them, playing in a match watched by thousands and due to be broadcast round the world to countless more?

I had done a Guy Goma. But whereas the IT worker who turned up at the BBC for a job interview and found himself on live TV only got a couple of minutes of glory, mine lasted a full hour. And I'll be dining out on it for the rest of my life.

It was last Monday, in Cannes, that I found myself in completely the wrong place at exactly the right time. The occasion - coinciding with the film festival - was a much-hyped seven-a-side football match between members of Brazil's 1994 World Cup-winning squad and a team of British celebrities, including Sting, Frank Skinner, the Olympic hurdler Colin Jackson, and the actors Jimi Mistry and Rhys Ifans. The location was a specially constructed pitch on the seafront, surrounded by photographers, at least 20 TV crews and a heaving, sunkissed crowd of which I was a part.

The kick-off was scheduled for 4pm. But with the Brazilian world-beaters warming up - performing seemingly impossible tricks with the ball - the opposition was nowhere to be seen. And when they did finally turn up, they were minus both Sting and Ifans. By drafting in the Olympic swimmer Mark Foster, and a couple of soap stars, England had enough players, but nobody on the bench.

It was about 15 minutes into the game - by which time England were 2-0 down thanks to goals from Bebeto and Dunga - that my big moment arrived. Sitting at the side of the pitch I was in exactly the right position when England's right-back, Abs Breen from the boyband 5ive, was forced to come off the pitch with an injury. Looking around in desperation for a non-existent replacement, someone from the match sponsors, Brazilian drinks company Sagatiba, shrugged his shoulders and offered Abs' newly discarded shirt to me. I kicked off my flip-flops, accepted a pair of trainers from a man sitting behind me, and I was on - still in the knee-length shorts I had earlier been wearing to paddle in the sea, but undeniably representing an England team against Brazil. What's more, I was marking Bebeto - the baby-faced centre-forward whose goals had helped sweep his country to glory in 1994.

Worried that at any moment I would be exposed by the commentator for the fraud that I was, I ran about for all I was worth, desperately trying to get a touch of the ball as the Brazilians span and twisted and flicked it all over the place. Then something happened almost as unbelievable as my presence on the pitch: the celebrities managed to score a goal. Turning away to celebrate, Colin Jackson ran towards his nearest team-mate - me. He stopped, looked at me with an expression of utter bemusement on his face, but hugged me anyway. England were in the game - despite the fact that none of them had any idea who their new right-back was. And they were far too polite to check my credentials.

Our man of the match was undoubtedly Mistry, who scored from long range, but not even he could prevent a final score of 8-2 to Brazil. This was instantly forgotten, however, as we shook hands with our opponents and exchanged shirts.

That evening, along with the rest of the squad, I was invited to attend the post-match party at Pierre Cardin's summer house, up in the hills overlooking Cannes. It's there that an encounter happened that revealed how easy it is to become a celebrity. A stunning blonde woman, who had been flown over to the party by a London modelling agency, came up to me, believing me to be a bona fide celebrity, and said: "So I saw you playing football for the celebrities today. What have you been in?" Needless to say, she vanished pretty sharpish when she discovered the truth didn't get any more exciting than The Independent.

Mistry, meanwhile, was telling anyone who'd listen about his "Stevie Gerrard moment" (including a bemused-looking Caprice), while Skinner, standing next to one of the pools looking down over the twinkling Cote D'Azur below, officially announced his retirement from international football, citing a desire to finish his playing career on a high.

The Brazilian players, led by Leonardo, were up on a small stage, erected in the garden, dancing to Brazilian music, as a samba player thrashed out a beat.

Despite having seduced Heather Graham in The Guru, and having recently returned from Mozambique, filming Blood Diamonds with Leonardo DiCaprio, Mistry considered his goal against Brazil as one of the "absolute highlights" of his life. "I've only been to Cannes twice," he said. "The first time I came here was with East is East seven years ago and that completely changed my life. This game has done the same."

As for me, I fully intend to keep limping from the tackle inflicted on me by Bebeto. Any excuse to tell the story of the day I played football against Brazil.

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