Escape to victory - ‘A date? The only option is to watch the game together’
The World Cup comes to a spectacular close this weekend, but what if you've already made plans? Michael Hogan reveals how to dodge them
Warm up your vocal cords and nibble your fingernails because the most unpredictable World Cup Final in years kicks off at 4pm on Sunday.
You really didn't need to be football mad to get sucked into this year's tournament, which has given us all an excuse to get day-drunk in the sun. Russia 2018 has proven to be an unexpectedly thrilling spectacle, which went far beyond the nerve-racking dramas on the pitch and torturous penalty shoot-outs.
There were the antics of Diego Maradona, wearing two watches so he could keep track of the time back in Argentina and putting on a show in the VIP box. There was unlikely fashion icon Gareth Southgate, inspiring fans to snap up his Marks & Spencer waistcoats in droves.
We saw the Senegal team warming up with what quickly became a meme-worthy dance, and a new generation of Wags (Wives and Girlfriends), hailed as the 'every-Wags', swapping bedazzled hot pants and tank tops for bedazzled England jerseys and smart blazers, with sprogs in tow.
And this weekend, half the nation is expected to tune into France's final against Croatia. Unfortunately, the match falls right in the middle of peak summer event season, with just about every weekend until mid-September assigned to some wedding, birthday or garden party.
What if, horror of horrors, you've already made plans? Here are 10 prior engagements you might have - and how to wriggle out of them…
Sunday will mark the first time in history that 'evening only' B-listers have felt superior. Any bride and groom worth their salt will delay the reception for a couple of hours or build a communal screening into the itinerary. Most guests would be sloping off to the hotel bar or slyly watching on their phones anyway, meaning the speeches would be interrupted by cheering and groaning in the wrong places.
If the happy couple aren't budging (say, if they're English or Belgian), there's always the 'Any objections?' bit during the ceremony. Piping up should at least cause enough of a kerfuffle to check the latest score.
A summery Sunday is, tragically, peak time for al fresco fundraisers and street parties. You might even have foolishly offered to help out on a stall. But let's face it, attendance is going to plummet on Sunday and you'd be left standing idle, obsessively monitoring your phone while little urchins steal the bric-a-brac.
It's a far more efficient use of your time to cite sunstroke/work commitments/bouncy castle phobia/raffle ticket allergy, draw the curtains and yell at the telly instead. To ease your guilt, donate generously on Monday morning and furiously click 'like' on any Facebook pics of the event. It's almost like actually being there.
Light the coals at noonish. Feed the hungry hordes by 2pm latest. Sneak indoors at 4pm. You'll "need some shade" after slaving over that hot grill. Being chef will also clock up copious brownie points. Oh look, the football's on. You'd completely forgotten. Still, since you're here…
Child's birthday party
If the bash is being held in honour of someone else's child, it's easy: drop and go. The roads will be eerily quiet, so you can get back in time for the match. If it's your own offspring's birthday, that's trickier. Too late to retool it as a football-themed party?
Yes, we know it's summer sale time and there's heaps of bargains in all the shops, but don't be that loser gazing longingly at the TVs in Harvey Norman's window. It's days like these that online shopping was invented for. Just tell any naysayers that it's cheaper.
If by some admin aberration you've agreed to a romantic rendezvous on Sunday afternoon, there's no point bravely soldiering on. You'd be so distracted you'd come across like a sociopath or, even worse, a bad listener.
The only option is to watch the game together. Make it more date-like by choosing a swish venue or outdoor screening with cocktails, wine and nibbles on tap. Just rein in the robust language and try not to cry like a massive man-baby if your team lose.
Holiday or mini-break
No need to cancel the whole thing. Simply ensure that two hours - okay, three, because it's bound to go to extra-time and penalties - are left clear for you to repair to a local pub or find a quiet corner with your iPad.
Just ensure all devices (and glasses) are fully charged. Don't make a schoolboy error with international time differences either.Rival event
Sunday afternoon also sees the Wimbledon men's final, Longitude music festival in Marlay Park, the Tour de France and the first round in the GAA Super-8s between Kerry and Galway in Croke Park. All worthy occasions on any other weekend, but none worth missing the big match for.
So leave early, arrive late, find a screen there, set it to record - whatever you need to do.
Family camping trip
Even the happiest camper will relish the chance to escape from the great outdoors in favour of the even greater indoors. Simply squint up at the sky and sagely utter: "Looks like rain. Better decamp to a pub for a few hours." It'll cost you for fizzy drinks and crisps but it's worth it. Also: proper loos!
"It's what they would have wanted." "Life goes on." "He/she hated the French, ever since that incident with the foie gras." Raise a respectful glass during the national anthems and your conscience is clear.