When Wayne Rooney stropped off the pitch after England's dire goalless draw against Algeria at the last World Cup, he took exception to the way the travelling supporters reacted: "Nice to see your own fans booing you. If that's what loyal support is... for fuck's sake."
It wasn't the most articulate phrase ever uttered and Rooney later apologised, but the way he scrunched up his face and spat out his anger said a lot about the pressure facing England players at a World Cup. Rooney was angry as he had played badly in a team that was stuttering towards an early exit. He didn't need to be booed from the stands to realise he had underperformed. Professional footballers tend to be more aware of their own failings than the crowds who watch them.
England struggled at the last World Cup and are unlikely to do much better at this one. If they click, they could make the quarter-finals, but without a bit of luck they could go out at the group stage. That's their level.
Perhaps no one sums up the England team better than Tom Cleverley. He's workaday but unspectacular. On his day, he looks like a classy and controlled footballer. And on his bad days – many of which have occurred this season – he can look annoyingly ineffective. He's not going to win the World Cup for England, but he's not "inept" and "without any genuine qualities whatsoever", as alleged by the writer of an online petition that has been signed by 12,500 people.
Why so many football fans have supported a petition that asks the FA to "ban" Cleverley from the World Cup squad is anyone's guess. Maybe it sounded like a funny idea at the time. But it is unnecessarily cruel.
As Roy Hodgson suggested on Tuesday, Cleverley knows his form has dipped and is trying to play his way out of a rough patch. "That petition does not impress me, I must admit," said Hodgson, sounding a little like Shania Twain. "I'm disappointed that Tom, as a sensitive young man, has got to bear that burden, but I know one thing – he will come through it and when he does come through it and Manchester United start winning again, and he's starting to get praise for his performances, he'll be stronger for it."
Cleverley may take home a substantial wage packet, but he's just a 24-year-old trying to learn his trade in a very public setting. He's going through a run of poor form, but doesn't deserve to be cyberbullied by his own supporters. England fans can do better than this. Are football supporters not famed for their wit and humour? If fans are going to write petitions to the FA, what subjects should they be backing?
What subjects should football fans petition about?