Chris Goreham: Leeds boss Bielsa won't be hiring me to spy on Norwich City any time soon

PUBLISHED: 13:41 15 January 2019

Canaries legend Wes Hoolahan stayed on the bench for West Brom against City Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Canaries legend Wes Hoolahan stayed on the bench for West Brom against City Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Paul Chesterton

As somebody who spends a lot of time acting suspiciously around Norwich City's training ground, the controversy surrounding Leeds United spying on Derby County last week has been a fascinating one to follow.

West Brom got off rather lightly when the heated debates about the ethics of Championship espionage were raging. At least their methods were more subtle than sending an employee to peep over the fence in an attempt to gather clues about City’s starting line-up for the weekend but by signing Wes Hoolahan earlier in the season they were clearly playing the long game.

Who better to provide inside information on what The Canaries might do at The Hawthorns than a man who knows Norwich City like the back of his little Irish hands?

It’s a fair bet that Baggies manager Darren Moore isn’t so much of a gentle giant that he didn’t bend Hoolahan’s ear about how Norwich would approach Saturday’s match at The Hawthorns. If they don’t renew his contract this week then we’ll know that was the real reason for signing him all along.

The microphones and cameras that I have to take to Colney on a weekly basis are not of the hidden variety and there is a usually a cheery wave from one of the security men who raises the barrier to visitors on the days before matches when the media are invited to grill Daniel Farke on the fitness of his squad and his assessment of the challenges that lie ahead.

Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa admitted to spying on a Derby training session last week Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesLeeds manager Marcelo Bielsa admitted to spying on a Derby training session last week Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

For the past few years us media types have been corralled in one of the mobile classrooms at Colney and a series of managers from Peter Grant to Daniel Farke have come over to address us from their table full of microphones. This is how all football clubs conduct their pre-match requirements in a world of social media and 24 hour news.

I have been doing this job for long enough to remember when the weekly briefings would actually take place in the manager’s office. What a thrill it was to sit around the desk of Bruce Rioch and Bryan Hamilton on the odd occasion although by the time I was senior enough to be trusted as BBC Radio Norfolk’s main representative on a regular basis Nigel Worthington was in charge. When Twitter and even mobile phones with cameras still felt like something that only The Jetsons would have had access to there was less risk of any secrets slipping out.

I never did pluck up the courage to ask Mr Worthington about the VHS that was in a cabinet in the corner of that office with a label on the spine that said ‘Peter Thorne’. It was there for several years before City actually signed him from Cardiff. The fact it has taken me more than 15 years to reveal that publicly illustrates why Marcelo Bielsa has never called to ask me to join his staff at Leeds.

After exhausting the manager’s supply of information we would then be invited into the player’s canteen and could interview whoever we wanted to. It was here that I was taught a valuable lesson about the importance of asking players to step outside to be interviewed in the fresh air after a chat with Andy Marshall was interrupted by a few of his team-mates pelting us with bread rolls. I suppose it would have gone viral on social media if that had been possible in those days.

Perhaps Frank Lampard needs to adopt that tactic to get him through the season at Derby County. Characters would stop acting suspiciously outside their training ground if they thought a barrage of bread rolls might fly over the fence.

THAT BIG GAME FEELING

If Saturday’s match at West Brom is a sign of things to come, then bring it on.

Norwich City have finished 14th and 8th in the past two seasons and with any realistic hopes of a place in the play-offs extinguished long before the end of those respective campaigns it was good to rediscover that feeling of what it’s like to be involved in a match that really matters.

Of course, like any self-respecting professional footballer, I give 110% every week in my commentaries, but with so many ups and downs over the past decade the last two seasons of mid-table respectability have lacked sustained dramatic interest.

The second half of the season is always better if your team is pushing for promotion or battling against relegation. By now it’s clear which clubs are likely to be direct rivals for those vital league places and when the clashes with them come along there’s a certain edge that doesn’t develop until after Christmas.

Seeing The Hawthorns sold out with a wonderful turn out of more than 2,700 City fans all playing their part felt like a genuinely big occasion. There was palpable tension around the ground as West Brom tried to hold on to their slender 1-0 lead late in the second half. Any point away from home has to be gratefully accepted but when Jordan Rhodes expertly turned his first touch into a goal to send those supporters crazy it felt like we were witnessing what may turn out to be a big moment in City’s season.

With Birmingham, Sheffield United, Leeds and Ipswich all on the horizon it’s going to be a month that will bring back all sorts of memories of heroics and heartbreaks from seasons gone by because for the first time in three years it looks as if Norwich are going to have plenty on the line over the final few weeks of the season.

It may also be an advantage that, once that mouth-watering run of matches is over, City will only have Boro of the current top six left to play in their final 15 Championship matches.

The Canaries’ superb form over the first half of the season has left them with a wonderful opportunity. Whether or not they go on to grasp it I have a feeling it will be fun to watch. It certainly beats being mid-table anyway.

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