"I think it's stopped. The forecast said it was going to ease off by about eight o'clock." As weathermen go, my friend Steve is now firmly in the Michael Fish class.
England didn't make it here in the summer but I knew my way around Warsaw from the European Championship and when we left the restaurant, with an hour and 20 minutes to make a half-hour journey by bus and tram, it was clear the view through the window had been misleading. The weather was nothing out of the ordinary, though, and there were plenty of taxis about; with three of us the expense would be minimal and we would arrive drier and in plenty of time. But as the steady rain became a downpour and then a torrent, the cabs seemed to be prebooked or taking only locals. And then it really started to hammer it down.
To start with, we looked at our tickets. Row 4: if that was in the lower tier then it was a safe bet this rain would be blowing in well past our seats. And still the rain worsened, "easing off" now constituting a heavier fall than there had been on the walk from the hotel to the restaurant. I wondered fleetingly what playing conditions would be like.
As we sheltered from a particularly intense burst and the minutes passed, we started to calculate how late we could leave it before running from awning to awning to reach the bus stop 50 yards away. By the time we made the decision to splash through what were more rivers than puddles, though, news was coming in from back home that the game was in jeopardy. And as soon as we heard that, and looked around at the mini Vistulas on the Royal Route, making kick-off suddenly became less urgent. Friends filled us in about the hosts ignoring Roy Hodgson's demand for the roof to be closed and it was plain that this rain was going nowhere.
As the water filled our shoes it was no longer a race to get to the ground but to get to the safety of a pub near the suburban rail station, in case a miracle happened – and to be the first in conversations here and with friends back home to mention Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, as life imitated the art of James Bolam, Rodney Bewes and Brian Glover. In the famous episode No Hiding Place, Terry and Bob tried to avoid finding out the score before the highlights of a game in Bulgaria, when they caught sight of an evening paper billboard that began: "England f …" In the end they had to pay up on the bet to Glover's Flint because they forgot to lock the front door, and then settled down to watch what proved to be figure skating as England had not failed, or flopped, or scored five, but had been flooded out.
While Poles translated their TV pundits for us we were soon following the online coverage from back home and it, too, was using the language of comedy. It was farcical, we were told, a joke. It was difficult not to smile as we watched the absurd pitch inspections and felt relieved we hadn't made it all the way to the ground. But any rearrangement posed problems more costly than Terry's and Bob's lost bet.
Polish TV suggested next month, but England's November window is occupied with a trip to Sweden. Would I get my £300 back, spent as long ago as April, for four nights in Stockholm, or would my insurance company tell me to enjoy my smorgasbord and try to find a pub showing the match?
For once, my luck is in: the game will now kick off at 5pm local time on Wednesday and I do not fly home till Thursday, but thousands of England fans will be on earlier flights that cannot be changed.
Many organised trips will have been heading home straight after the game that wasn't; hundreds if not thousands more will be on early departures. My friends are lucky, they are not leaving until 9pm local time – but it will be touch and go whether they can see the whole game before catching a taxi to far-flung Modlin airport, home to Ryanair flights and as handy for Warsaw as you would imagine. Others will be mid-air at the new kick-off time.
While I will see the game, assuming the pitch is fit in the afternoon, thousands will not because someone couldn't be persuaded to close a roof that was built for this express purpose. Unlike with Terry and Bob, England flooded out in real life is no joke.