Euro 2020 has been hell … at least for Australia’s bleary-eyed 5am squad

Sport

Although I’m absolutely knackered as I write this now, I have no regrets about what I have inflicted on myself.

If it were practical, I think I could sleep nine or 10 hours daily. If you asked me what my biggest fear was, I might say having to get through the day without enough hours under my belt.

But I know what I’m doing. Yes, with matches played at the particularly unsociable hours of 11pm, 2am and 5am (AEST), the Euros are rough.

And unless you’re some kind of mad person determined to watch every game, it requires some considered planning.

But to be a football fan in Australia is to be forced into these kinds of decisions. Membership of this bizarre club is not exclusive, but you do need to make some sacrifices.

Perhaps the biggest sacrifice is sleep. With that, for me at least, goes any real sense of order in your life. (My apartment is in dire straits right now.) And you can forget about keeping social commitments during normal hours.

Unless you’re some kind of mad person determined to watch every game, it requires some considered planning
This kind of behaviour is not always understood by non-devotees. As a similarly sleep-deprived friend in Asia put it to me: “It’s one thing to tell someone, say, you can’t make it because you have to sleep before the Italy-England final; it’s something else to pull out because Honduras are playing Switzerland.” (That was 3-0 to the Swiss in the 2014 World Cup, by the way. Xherdan Shaqiri scored a hat-trick).

So it was that I found myself unable to go to bed while a strangely-captivating Group C clash between Ukraine and North Macedonia played out on my laptop. “Let’s go out for dinner?” came the question that day. Guilty, I was too exhausted to muster more than a sheepish shrug.

Yes, it’s best to acknowledge that what you are doing is not normal, to accept fault, and carry on. You only have so much energy at times like this.

There’s another familiar scene: the time is 4.43am and you find yourself standing, or these days sitting, in a slightly more sparse, Covid-safe formation, in a pub.

You’re pushing through your first pint and, like the last time you started drinking at this hour for football purposes, it tastes horrific. But you plough ahead.

Maybe you have a real allegiance to a team, or maybe one you’ve simply adopted one for this tournament. If they win, the glow will carry you through the day.

Otherwise, it’s not so easy. In my case, I support Portugal, owing to my Timorese heritage. A quick sidebar: supporting your old colonial rulers might seem like a very bizarre choice, but I’m not alone. When Portugal won the Euros in 2016, the streets of Dili erupted in celebration. I’ve never really probed why, but that’s for another time.

These Euros, I have adopted Scotland. A Glaswegian best pal whose excitement at finally qualifying and terror at the nail-biting consequences of this – high-stakes tournament football – was simply irresistible.

When Luka Modrić sunk Scotland’s tournament with the outside of his right boot, I almost felt worse than when Portugal were bundled out by the Belgians a few days later.

All in all, both days at work were difficult. And I can think of no better outlet than these pages to apologise to my employer if I’ve been running at less than 100% this past month.

Supporting your old colonial rulers might seem like a very bizarre choice, but I’m not alone
Last year, a friend and I actually had tickets for matches in Spain. The pandemic restored us to our familiar place as members of Australia’s bleary-eyed 5am squad.

With the borders closed and the likelihood of imminent international travel seeming, well, quite unlikely, I’d say the tournament has taken on a new quality.

Notwithstanding the many issues with the many host locations, I’ve enjoyed these TV trips to places like the far-flung Baku Olympic Stadium in Azerbaijan, or Budapest’s Ferenc Puskás Stadium, where, at 3.30am on a Wednesday morning, I briefly believed Portugal might be able to repeat their 2016 success.

I feel almost jet-lagged, but happy. When this all comes to a close on Monday, I will be in the outback town of Alice Springs to visit my partner’s family. I already have my fingers crossed the livestream holds up. Then it will be over – and I’ll get my nine hours in.