Following England at any major tournament typically involves a two-stage process, which is as brutal as it is inevitable.
The first stage is wilful delusion, and even the shrewdest football brain is vulnerable. Egged on by a ten-month propaganda campaign in the tabloid press, we camp ourselves in the no-man’s land between statistical evidence and the world of cloud cuckoos, as we genuinely start to believe that England can go all the way.
Stage two - and this is the cruel bit - is the complete unravelling of stage one, in one twentieth of the time. England are world-beaters until they actually have to start playing football.
That’s why the down-in-the-dumps approach to Euro 2012 was suiting me just fine, and why I find the slow creep back to self-assured optimism so disturbing. It threatens our psychological health. If the school playground has taught us nothing else, it’s that defeat is a whole lot easier to take if you haven’t spent the preceding 40 weeks crowing about how good you are.
I sense we’re in danger of repeating our mistakes all over again. I’ve lost count of the number of stolen smirks, winks and nudges I’ve received in the last few days, from people insisting England are now red-hot, nailed-on, dark horses.
Even the England players themselves seem to have forgotten how to do low-key.
Joe Hart, one of England’s truly world-class players and usually a reliable realist, is talking about "high expectations". Ashley Young managed to keep a straight face long enough to tell me recently that "with the players we’ve got in the squad, we can win the tournament".
Come on. Can we stop this now, please? It’s threatening to undo all our downplaying of our chances, as well as ruin what promises to be a hugely entertaining, and wholly unpredictable, tournament.
Spain – so well-fancied they could play a romantic lead alongside Brad Pitt – look tired and jaded, opening the door for a young and vibrant Germany, hungry for success after an unbelievable 16-year barren spell. France pose a devastating attacking threat now Laurent Blanc has knocked them into shape. Holland have Robin van Persie.
Italy, yes Italy, are playing a new brand of free-flowing, attacking football. Then there’s the Republic of Ireland, unbeaten in 14 games under Giovanni Trapattoni, who will be as stubborn as they are well-supported. Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo in the kind of form that could carry them well into the latter stages, will also be a danger.
And so we come to England. England, whose fragile team morale is palpably threatened by a race row involving their captain. England, whose manager has had just 42 days to prepare for his first competitive game. England, with their talent pool so limited there’s a place in attack for Stewart Downing – a Liverpool winger with precisely no goals and no assists in the Premier League all season.
England are underdogs for a reason: they’re crisis-hit, ill-prepared and not very good. Let’s remember this as the bandwagon of hope rolls into town this weekend. Then maybe, just maybe, we can have some fun and avoid the torment.