There.was more than a hint of the tongue-incheek about last Friday's Times and its attempt to cater to the football fans amongst its readers with alternative columns addressing victory and defeat in the match against Brazil; and it came close to betraying the open trade secret that most of what we read about sporting fixtures, general elections or natural disasters has been written in advance of the event, so that hard-presssed hacks need only fill in the precise details as they become known. The paper even had its in-house sawbones, Dr Thomas Stuttaford, advising us on the likely symptoms of elation and disappointment.
I don't think we really needed him to tell us that people who aren't good at coping with frustration would be best avoided in the event of Bobby Moore's heirs losing to Pele's, especially if they have painted faces and tattoos.
One of the reasons I came late and hesitantly to any appreciation of sport was that my childhood was often inconvenienced by contemporaries who seemed to live for nothing else, and combined this enthusiasm with an instinctive dislike of weedy kids with blonde hair and ghostly-pale skin. Not all football fans are brainless thugs, of course, but I think it would be safe to observe, at least of England, that all brainless thugs are football fans. So I should have felt grateful, at last, that at least no one could possibly take me for a Brazilian.
But, as it happened, I felt particularly nervous for my safety as I walked the streets that morning, gripped by a terrible conviction that it was all my fault. For it seems that whenever I shrug off my apathy and bother to watch a sporting international, the heroes of England manage to blow it. I missed the fifth day of the final Test against Sri Lanka, with the inevitable consequence that our chaps pulled off a stunning victory. But in a weak moment I agreed to roll round for dinner with some old friends last Thursday, then take the spare room and rise with them to watch the football. And what happened? Dave Seaman, telepathically mesmerised by my attention, looked the wrong way and let in a ball that came lolloping over his head at about half a mile an hour.