I was so looking forward to the World Cup final. I persuaded my lady friend Miranda to watch it with me, even though she has no interest in football. I said it will be spectacular, World Cup finals are always well behaved, Lionel Messi will be an all-time Argentinian hero or once again disappoint his nation. And wait till you see him. He is small and weedy. You won’t believe he is a football superstar.
We set off to drive from my home in Ryde across the Isle of Wight to Cowes, where Miranda lives. Halfway over I got the most appalling sudden pains in my stomach. I got her to stop the car and find a chemist and get some Rennies, thinking it might be indigestion. By this time the pains were constant and I was doubled up and screaming.
At her house I went to bed with a hot-water bottle on my belly. After an hour, I felt worse, so we rang for an ambulance. I was told the waiting time was two hours.
The festive season is never a good time to be poorly, but this year we had the NHS strikes, though fortunately on the Isle of Wight the nurses were working. We decided instead to drive to A&E – where the waiting time was six hours.
There was a young bloke beside me with his mother. His hand was bloodied, as if he had picked a fight with a glass door.
Behind us was another young man with blood on his chest, shouting and screaming in agony. He appeared to be with his wife. The one with the injured hand was on his mobile, telling someone that a “f****** nutter” was screaming and shouting behind him. The wife of the man who was shouting got up and rushed at the bloke on the phone. “Who are you calling a f****** nutter?” The two blokes exchanged punches and the women joined in .
I noticed a TV screen beside the reception desk. Go on, I said to Miranda, ask if they can turn on the football. She went over and the whole waiting room heard the reply.
“This is a hospital. Not a hotel.” Oh the shame.
Eventually I was seen and put on a trolley in a corridor. Then I was suddenly transferred to a proper bed and wheeled into another room. Uniformed nurses were bustling round moving beds. The room seemed familiar. It was the waiting room, where I had watched the fight. It was being turned into a ward.
A woman in civilian clothes seemed to be supervising the transformation. I asked if she was management. She said “certainly not”. She was head of nursing. She had been at home, having done her shift, when she was called back to turn the A&E waiting room into a ten-bed ward. Normally there is room for 25 beds in A&E. Today, they were trying to fit in 75. She had not had time to put on her uniform and came in as she was.
She was from Brazil, so naturally I spoke fluent kitchen Portuguese to her, sympathising with Brazil’s exit from the World Cup.
Later that evening, I got moved to yet another ward. When the consultant came round, I moaned about how I had missed the final. Oh, it was brilliant, he said. Especially the last ten minutes. I wondered later how he had managed to watch it. The lucky beggar.
[See also: Qatar are the real winners of the World Cup]
I was eventually diagnosed with gall bladder stones, but the doctors did not want to operate because of my age . Cheeky sods.
Once I was let out of the hospital, full of drugs, I caught up with the final. And yes, it was brilliant, all the way through.
I always find football relaxing. I don’t watch any other sort of stuff on TV, not up to working out what is going on – is this a flashback? Who are these people? Why should I be interested in them? But with football, I can totally immerse myself.
I tell myself that when I am old, much older than I am today – ay, I will do nothing but watch football all day long and drink wine, until I pass out. I won’t go that way of course. Something boring like being run over while jay-walking across Highgate Road in north London. So my children always tell me. Now I expect my gall bladder will explode and finish me off. It could be Messi. I mean messy.
Fans say the 2022 World Cup final was the best ever. I have always said the 1966 final was better. I know, I was there, so just belt up.
But I also know that I will remember the day of the 2022 final, forever.
[See also: The vast costs of the Qatar 2022 World Cup]
This article appears in the 25 Jan 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Why Germany doesn’t do it better