The first Mexican wave ebbed and flowed around the Wembley stands with only 36 minutes on the clock. Six minutes later, the first paper aeroplanes emerged, drifting through the still air, the red and white pieces of paper fans were asked to hold to form a tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton before the game coming in handy when some entertainment was desperately sought.
Pockets of supporters cheered their slow descent to the Wembley turf, urging them on, waiting with bated breath to see if the precision of fold, the cleanness of angles, the fluidity, trajectory and strength of the throw was enough to reach the turf.
These are the gauges of how engaged supporters are during England games and even in the less interesting fixtures they are not usually seen until later in the second half.
A successful aircraft — one of the few — remained crumpled on the grass until the half-time break. Nobody could be bothered to clear it. It summed up the game.
How much can anyone truly glean playing against a nation whose starting eleven has a median player value of £218,000? Against a team of players who predominantly play in the Maltese Premier League, where total attendance for an entire season can sometimes fit into Wembley?
This is not to disrespect Malta. Everyone deserves a chance to qualify for the European Championships (Malta have never qualified for a European Championships or World Cup), so these games must be endured.
Yet Gareth Southgate talks of players showing what they can do and requiring standards not to drop when pretending anything much can be taken from the experience is a futile exercise.
Perhaps, at a stretch, that Trent Alexander-Arnold, given the opportunity by Southgate to play in his preferred central midfield role, is not of the level to deserve a place in England’s central midfield.
Possibly that VAR is not a problem exclusive to the Premier League, given the decision was allowed to stand to issue Harry Kane with a yellow card when he was clearly brought down by Malta goalkeeper Henry Bonello.
Maybe that without Jude Bellingham, out injured, England are a fraction of the side they are with him in it.
Even that judging by the boos for Jordan Henderson when he was substituted in the second half he has not been forgiven by England fans who feel let down by his move to Saudi Arabia.
England may have been ahead by an early goal but Phil Foden’s low ball was converted by Malta’s Enrico Pepe, meaning Southgate’s players failed to have a shot on target in the first half for the first time in six years. Even the young lad taking a penalty during the half-time entertainment failed to hit the target.
The second half was little better. Kieran Trippier intercepted the ball for a promising break then tried to play in Marcus Rashford but passed it straight off the pitch. The full-back looked bemused and sort of chuckled. A little later, Alexander-Arnold and Rashford ran into each other.
At the break you could’ve predicted that Malta would tire and England would end up scoring. It was that Kane added a second.
What did that teach us? That footballers chasing a ball for over an hour get knackered.
Fans emptied in droves in the final 10 minutes to beat the rush. From those remaining when it was announced that there would be six minutes of stoppage time there was a collective groan.
Judging from the sheer volume of folded bits of red and white paper that littered the ground around the stadium between the touchlines and the stands, there were far more aeroplanes thrown than shots on goal.
Perhaps if we can truly learn anything from this game, it’s that it is much harder than it looks to hit the Wembley pitch with a paper aeroplane from the stands.