Norwich's net doesn't fall wide enough

PUBLISHED: 12:13 15 February 2006 | UPDATED: 09:13 14 September 2010

Far be it from me to ride to the Norwich City Academy's rescue, but given the battering it has been taking in recent weeks - in particular on the back of Ipswich's derby triumph and the young guns that would appear to be blazing a trail for Watford - one or two facts ought to be thrown into the debate.

Far be it from me to ride to the Norwich City Academy's rescue, but given the battering it has been taking in recent weeks - in particular on the back of Ipswich's derby triumph and the young guns that would appear to be blazing a trail for Watford - one or two facts ought to be thrown into the debate.

The first involves a very simple exercise. Wander off and find a pair of compasses kids use in maths - those things you draw circles with.

Get yourself a map of England, put the point in the middle of Norwich and draw a circle that roughly equates with 90-minute travelling time and see where you get to.

Having just gone to Hull and back on Saturday, an hour and a half west is probably just this side of Lincoln. Sleaford, perhaps. That's west. South and an hour and a half probably takes you roughly to Stansted - depending, of course, on how the traffic is doing at Elveden lights.

North out of Norwich and your circle will probably take in the gas and oil platforms scattered across Dogger Bank. East and you might reach out as far as a Danish trawler ploughing through the choppy seas of German Bight.

This is, of course, Norwich City Academy's recruitment patch as ordained by their lordships at the Football Association.

So, in no particular order, Ricky Martin, Coin Watts and friends have about 5,000 roughnecks on the rigs, 300 trawlermen, a few thousand cabbage pickers, and 2,000 squaddies camping out in Thetford Forest from which to select the next generation of teenage Canary prospects, from over and above whatever those traditional footballing hotbeds of Holbeach, Wisbech, Hunstanton, Burnham Market and Caister have to offer. There's Norwich, of course. And Lowestoft. But, as Terry Butcher proved, the more you stray south the more you have Bryan Klug and Ipswich's own Academy operation sitting in the middle of your patch.

There's another little game to play. Put the point of your compass in the centre circle at Portman Road and draw a similar circle and see where you get to. The A12 Brentwood way is always a pain in the butt, but travel at the right time of day and I suspect you could pretty much cover the whole of Essex and large swathes of North London suburbia. Certainly, in Essex, all you have to really worry about is fending off the likes of Colchester United and Southend United. In fact, there's one for Klug and his crew to explain away - how England Under-20 star Greg Halford slipped through the net and ended up at Layer Road, not Portman Road.

Now do the same with Watford. Stick your compass on the centre circle at Vicarage Road and see how many people lie within 90 minutes of the Hornets' home. Everyone inside the M25, you could argue. As opposed to everyone north of the Norwich Southern Bypass.

And it's not just numbers that are the issue - and this is where I have to tread very carefully with the whole PC brigade. Because the ideal modern professional footballer comes out of a very certain mould - 6ft plus, big, strong and athletic. Yes, Ipswich have developed strong links with the Republic of Ireland and congratulations are certainly due in that regard. But otherwise, there is a mould that Titus Bramble, Ledley King, Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand all fit.

And it's not just what you're thinking either. There's white, Inner London and hungry, too. Lee Bowyer and Joe Cole spring to mind.

And Watford on the edge of the M25 have access to the lot. Arsenal do foreign - Chelsea do expensive. The final irony is, of course, the savage round of cost-cutting that followed the financial demise of the Robert Chase empire in 1996. One of the first to go - along with the whole scouting network that extended out across the West Country and produced the likes of Craig Bellamy, Darren Eadie, Jamie Cureton and Andy Johnson - was Norwich's satellite centre at Potters Bar.

And just in case anyone isn't familiar with their M25 geography, Potters Bar is basically at the end of the A1(M) - tucked round the back of South Mimms services. I'm guessing slightly, but within 90 minutes travelling time of Potters Bar lie probably the better part of, what, 15 million people?

Actually, that's not the final irony. This is - a couple of junctions down the M25 from Potters Bar lies the A41 inter-change and the road that leads into . . . Watford.

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