The Scottish Mail on Sunday
...now my favourite wine tastes like rusty water
Our double-jabbed columnist reveals he caught Covid at the chaotic Euros final – leaving him with raging fever, fearful but also profoundly grateful...
SUNDAY, JULY 11
TO WEMBLEY Stadium for the Euros final between England and Italy. ‘Is this wise?’ asked my wife Celia as I headed off sporting a St George’s flag waistcoat.
‘Football’s coming home!’ I roared back defiantly. ‘We haven’t reached a final since I was 16 months old – I have to be there.’
‘Well so long as Covid isn’t coming home too,’ she sighed, wearily.
‘It’s Covid-safe and well regulated,’ I insisted. ‘Everyone there has to produce proof of being fully vaccinated like me or having had a negative lateral flow test in the past 48 hours.’
As I said this, our TV was showing live footage from Wembley which already looked like total chaos, with reports of tens of thousands of ticketless fans being on the lash since 6am.
‘Doesn’t look very safe to me,’ Celia observed – correctly as it turned out.
Unlike the previous two England games I’d been to during the tournament – against Scotland in the group stage and Denmark in the semi-final – there was a highly volatile and chaotic atmosphere all around the area.
By the time I arrived with my three sons around 5.30pm, Wembley Way was a cannabis-stinking, beer-sodden, seething, brawling, chanting, tinderbox.
I’ve been to enough football matches over the past 45 years to know when things are likely to ‘kick off’ in a way that doesn’t involve a ball and this was definitely one of them. And for the first time, I’d be right down the front among the hardcore fans in the regular stands, not in a cosy hospitality box.
When we arrived at the first security barrier, it was complete mayhem as scores of drunken, aggressive, ticketless yobs tried to charge through. It was not a
Let’s hope Covid isn’t coming home too, my wife said wearily
situation where having a recognisable face was a massive bonus.
A guy suddenly appeared at my side and said: ‘Need some help, Piers?’
Before I could reply, he marched up to a steward on the other side of the barrier and said: ‘I’m Mr Morgan’s security guard and concerned for his safety – OK if he and his family come in here?’
The harassed steward clocked me, instantly replied ‘Yes’, opened the metal gate and ushered us through without checking whether we had tickets or a valid Covid status.
As he did so, my ‘bodyguard’ bustled through too with his mate, their arms protectively around us. Then they both ran off laughing. They didn’t give a damn about my safety – they’d used me to get in without tickets or Covid checks.
When we approached the second security gates, the automated turnstiles to get inside the stadium itself, there was similar carnage. Nobody checked our Covid status and I could see ticketless fans pushing through with people who had tickets and then getting into fights with others inside who’d paid a lot of money to be there and resented those barging in for nothing.
My confidence that this event would be Covid safe had disintegrated – it was turning into an unregulated free-for-all.
Once inside, thankfully things were a bit calmer. A few people came up to me for selfies or a friendly chat (in a bizarre moment, one man said, ‘Piers, my Mum’s got a granite tile with your face on it!
It’s on my phone’, and then showed me a photo of the tile markings which did indeed resemble me), and I wore a mask for the majority of the time when I wasn’t eating or drinking. But here’s the entirely unshocking reality: when you drink alcohol, your inhibitions drop.
After the third pint, I became less careful and when my comedian friend Jack Whitehall appeared and was promptly asked by two female admirers of mine to take my photo with them, I couldn’t resist gleefully posing, without a mask on. I threw my Covid caution to the wind because I was more excited by knowing how mortifying Whitehall would find his new role as my unpaid paparazzi.
‘We’re all vaccinated or have tested negative,’ I kept telling myself. ‘It’s fine.’ But this was just the drink talking, given that thousands of people were now in the stadium without any tickets or Covid checks.
The game was unbearably stressful, though the tension eased momentarily when a giant inflatable penis was unleashed and flew over our heads. ‘Lovely tribute to ya, Piers,’ yelled someone several rows away, ‘ya giant c**k!’
The atmosphere was incredible, the drama excruciating, the ending soul-crushing. But as we drove home after the penalty shoot-out, with our voices hoarse and our hearts battered, the boys and I all agreed on one thing: it had been one of the greatest experiences of our lives. I just hope it doesn’t turn out to have been the Covid superspreader I fear it became.
TUESDAY, JULY 13
I’M DOWN at my Sussex village home and began feeling a bit rough during the afternoon. I put it down to the rancid hayfever I’ve endured since early May, which has rendered me a walking zombie for numerous days when the pollen count has been raging.
But by this evening, my head was