England fans after the Algeria game
That heady summer football of Mexico '86 is the first World Cup I can properly remember and one of my strongest TV memories of that tournament is the public torture carried out by ITV on one of their pundits.
Former Scotland and Liverpool forward Ian St. John, for it was he, was suffering through his country's execrable 0-0 draw with Uruguay while, unbeknownst to him, a hidden camera was following his every last groan, gripe and gesture. How "Greavsie" and the crew giggled when "Saint" was played back his impromptu performance.
On Friday, in the chilly Ellis Park pressroom after USA's pulsating draw with Slovenia, a fellow journalist attempted - in vain - to do the same to me during the god-awful horror show that was England 0-0 Algeria. He was given short shrift and treated to the same Anglo-Saxon vernacular I had previously been aiming at a flat-screen television. My solace lay in the fact I was not in Cape Town and among a group of people - the fans - who were entitled to be even angrier, having paid serious cash to be insulted by such a clueless showing.
I myself found my own reactions odd. My friends and colleagues will know that I am never one to proclaim patriotism and the very ideas of wearing an England shirt or showing off a Flag of St George are distant anathema. Yet being at a World Cup can do strange things to the self-aware student of the game. My last such reaction to an England game came in a Munich bar. While at Germany 2006 I sat through a dire victory over Trinidad & Tobago in the company of Brazilians and Australians preparing for a group match between the two nations. It was the same feeling: shame by association with a brand of football so poor that it made you wish you were Scottish.
Yet it seems that the players only wish to share that association when it suits them. Wayne Rooney's outburst to a television camera was undefendable. What did he and his team-mates expect? Warm applause, massed stiff upper lips, a chorus of "Things Can Only Get Better"? A colleague at the game said that the players did not even seek to acknowledge the fans. I myself viewed a similar lack of mutual appreciation for travelling support after the game in Rustenberg, where the Americans righteously applauded their support and our own collection of Premier League megastars merely sloped off in search of their Marks and Spencer suits and oversized headphones.
It was hard not to have some sympathy for the miscreant who wormed his way into the dressing room and was there long enough to have a go at David Beckham. In doing so, he was perhaps seeking to gain the personal touch these cosseted clots clearly feel is beneath them. Now, in a transparent attempt at spinning the agenda away from the main story, the English FA's po-facedly talk of security worries and the players' safety.
They can barely expect a wave of public sympathy though from my own experience such a security breach is highly possible. While trying to escape the rugby scrum of the "Mixed Zone" after the tournament's opening match, I mistakenly found myself in the Mexican dressing room, quickly taking my leave when I caught sight of a discarded green jockstrap.
I digress. That problem is surely to be righted in a far easier fashion than the travails of the England team. I shall leave the most telling words to the captain himself, Steven Gerrard MBE. In seeking to paint a positive light and be magnanimous to his Algerian opponents, he supplied this wonderful piece of reality-detached arrogance: "We have to give them credit. This was their World Cup final."
No, Steven, it wasn't. But you may just have pinpointed why your team was so poor and are now so unloved.