’Allo ’Allo – there’s a war against net spies

DAVID CUFFLEY In the very same month that TV news bulletins highlighted the way one of the world's most famous fortresses was throwing its doors open to all comers as an up-market youth hostel, news comes of another well-known stronghold closer to home where the reverse is happening.

DAVID CUFFLEY

In the very same month that TV news bulletins highlighted the way one of the world's most famous fortresses was throwing its doors open to all comers as an up-market youth hostel, news comes of another well-known stronghold closer to home where the reverse is happening.

Colnitz, that other great impenetrable compound in the East, is closing its gates to the public for all except two days per week.

Norwich City announced this week that they were imposing new limits on public access to their training sessions, allowing visitors only on Monday and Tuesday.


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If there is a midweek fixture - and there will be at least a dozen of those this season - the ban runs for the whole week.

The move is explained as an attempt to stamp out internet spying, a reluctant response to the “increase in new media technology” and the advent of so-called citizen journalists - where fans post snippets of news on websites and message boards, often supported by pictures or video footage taken during training.

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We know this to be true, of course.

Comic Strip-style villains wearing hats and dark glasses have been spotted among the diehards at Colnitz, mumbling such privileged information as “diamond formation blah blah . . . Dublin up front blah blah . . . no sign of Safri blah blah” into mobile phones.

And - in a neat reprise of famous episodes of Dad's Army and 'Allo 'Allo! - agents from City's opponents have disguised themselves as trees and shuffled into a good vantage point on the touchline, only to give the game away because their arms were sticking out clutching notebooks and digital cameras.

Other Flybe-sponsored clubs have been known to hire planes and swoop low over the complex, taking aerial shots of the Canaries' free-kick routines.

Explaining the club's stance, City boss Peter Grant this week described a number of incidents in which sensitive information about team selection or the fitness of players had found its way into the public domain.

He said: “Last season there were a couple of occasions when information unfortunately got out on to websites that I wasn't happy with from training sessions when I'm trying to get ready for an important game.

“The media look at the websites, too, and there's just that risk of something getting out which compromises what we are trying to do before a game.

“This happened yet again before the Preston game, when our exact line-up and personnel leaked out on the day before the match.”

I'm sure that is true. I'm not for a minute disputing that this may be the case. The question is whether opposing managers regard message board gossip as a reliable source of information in the build-up to a game.

Did Southampton boss George Burley, in an attempt to discover City's plans for today's match at Carrow Road, scour the Wrath of the Barclay to see what Tricky Hawes, Fierce Panda or Blind Lemon Creosote had to say about the latest injury situation? Did the pinkun.com contributions of Hairy Canary or Mello Yello influence his thinking?

City point out that their new policy brings them into line with most other professional clubs in the country, “where access to training sessions is either heavily restricted or, in some cases, not allowed at all”.

Ipswich Town, for example, have banned the public from training sessions for the past five seasons. We wouldn't expect anything different from those miserable blighters. It hasn't made much difference to their results, though, to judge from the league table.

But the whole argument highlights how much clubs' attitudes towards protecting their training territory and their players have changed in recent years.

Long gone are the days when journalists and broadcasters could wander down to City's training ground on any day of the week to catch a particular player for an interview at the end of a session.

It was inevitable with the extra demands of the media and the proliferation of radio stations, satellite TV and internet sites over the past decade, and the emergence of clubs' own websites, that they would try to formalise Press arrangements and limit access to a greater degree.

In the days when City were based at Trowse, there was nothing very formal about pre-match Press conferences, and no great secrecy.

In fact, I lost count of the number of Friday mornings when we would arrive at the training ground and the then manager, Ken Brown, would say simply: “Same team, same sub.”

It didn't seem to occur to him that announcing the exact eleven 24 hours before the game would damage his team's chances, and results didn't seem to suffer. City finished fifth in the old Division One that season, losing just eight games out of 42.

I suppose if your team is good enough, you let the opposition worry about you. And, more often than not, you go out and beat them.

ROCHDALE DRAW SEES MEMORIES FLOOD BACK

It's hard being a cowboy in Rochdale. At least that's what Mike Harding used to sing.

It shows just how long ago it is since the Canaries visited Spotland that the comic songwriter's one and only hit single was in the charts just a few months before the two clubs were drawn together in the FA Cup. That was in season 1975-76.

With City handed a trip to Rochdale in the Carling Cup on Tuesday week, it brought back memories of their three-match January marathon in the other major cup competition, 31 years ago.

Those epic battles are a thing of the past now that there can be only one FA Cup replay, followed by penalties if necessary, and replays are out completely in the Carling Cup.

But, in the way that you might miss a Geoff Boycott century or a Terry Griffiths maximum break, I rather miss those marathon encounters.

Leeds and Manchester United had to play each other three times in the FA Cup semi-finals of 1970 before a single goal sent Don Revie's team to Wembley.

And Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday played each other no fewer than FIVE times in 17 days in the FA Cup third round in January 1979 before the Gunners went through.

Imagine the moaning and groaning from Wenger or Ferguson if that happened now.

ROCHDALE DRAW SEES MEMORIES FLOOD BACK

It's hard being a cowboy in Rochdale. At least that's what Mike Harding used to sing.

It shows just how long ago it is since the Canaries visited Spotland that the comic songwriter's one and only hit single was in the charts just a few months before the two clubs were drawn together in the FA Cup. That was in season 1975-76.

With City handed a trip to Rochdale in the Carling Cup on Tuesday week, it brought back memories of their three-match January marathon in the other major cup competition, 31 years ago.

Those epic battles are a thing of the past now that there can be only one FA Cup replay, followed by penalties if necessary, and replays are out completely in the Carling Cup.

But, in the way that you might miss a Geoff Boycott century or a Terry Griffiths maximum break, I rather miss those marathon encounters.

Leeds and Manchester United had to play each other three times in the FA Cup semi-finals of 1970 before a single goal sent Don Revie's team to Wembley.

And Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday played each other no fewer than FIVE times in 17 days in the FA Cup third round in January 1979 before the Gunners went through.

Imagine the moaning and groaning from Wenger or Ferguson if that happened now.

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