Terry Venables' close examination of players is well known. While at Lancaster Gate he built up an extensive video library of players around the world, but even he will never have scrutinised them as closely as he will this season - thanks to the technological bent of Palace chairman Mark Goldberg.
Crystal Palace, it seems, are leaving nothing to chance with regards their prompt return to the Premiership. Every pass, shot, move and tackle - or in the case of the Palace defence, missed tackle - will be monitored by observers, cameras and eventually transmitting devices installed in a player's kit so that Venables will know exactly where his players are at any given point in a match.
No longer will there be any excuses for failing to pick up an opponent at set-pieces, for neglecting to shadow a player or being pulled out of position. As the great Joe Louis might have said, "they can run but they cannot hide". Every second of action at Selhurst Park will be recorded on film or noted on a computer and then later analysed in detail by Venables and his squad in a specially built lecture theatre at the club's new training ground at Godstone.
"It's really our own software that we've devised," said Goldberg. "The whole idea is to provide Terry with better support than he's probably ever had before. And I think it's that element of monitoring and redirection by Terry that will give us an edge, and there's no question that you do need that edge."
The club are being fairly secretive about exactly how it functions and so far it has only been used with the youth team. "It's absolutely amazing," said Peter Nicholas, the youth team coach, "but we don't want to talk too much about it or they'll all want it."
Apparently, Brazil used a similar technology in the World Cup. Not that it seemed to help their defenders much when it came to picking out France's Zinedine Zidane at set-pieces.
A BALL has yet to be kicked in anger and Southampton find themselves facing a welter of suspensions in the season's opening weeks. Missing the start of the campaign tomorrow, against Liverpool at The Dell, is Francis Benali. The impetuous defender will also be missing the next three games following the 11th sending-off of his career, in the final home game of last season against Derby. And before he has even had the chance to reoffend Southampton may also find themselves shorn of Carlton Palmer and John Beresford, whose dismissals for violent conduct in a "friendly" in Lierse last week have been reported to the Belgian FA. So much for the Saints.
FOOTBALL CLUBS bitterly complain about inaccuracies in newspapers, but sometimes it's unavoidable, as a couple of them have discovered first hand in the last week. For this week's friendly between Newcastle and Juventus at St James' Park the club took out a half page advertisement in the local press in order to promote the game. The advert depicted a pitch with the Juve players Zidane, Deschamps and Davids on one side and David Batty on the other, with the words "David is going to need all the support he can get." Nice idea, except Batty was out injured with an operation, so last week they changed the Newcastle player in the advert to Stephane Guivarc'h, who duly went down injured. Whereupon in Monday's edition of the Newcastle Journal, the name of Dietmar Hamann was substituted, although in the event he appears to need nobody's support. And as for the Italian trio, well, none of them ended up playing.
At least they were a bit more accurate than Portsmouth FC, who in their pounds 3 programme for last weekend's four-team tournament, involving Sochaux, Genoa and Wimbledon, failed to get a single name in the Italian team right - not even the manager's. To be fair, even the Italian journalists present didn't recognise half of them. Tough game, this accuracy business.
IT SEEMS some players will do anything to wriggle out of contracts these days, but at least Kevin Walton's reason for resigning from Berwick Rangers is down to earth. Walton, 23, has just gained three A-grade science A- level passes and wants to be a vet. A clause in his contract entitles him to a free transfer if he lands a permanent job with a practice outside Scotland or North-east England, which seems to rule him out of a transfer to Sunderland, where the late James Herriot was a vice-president. "I would hope to be able to continue playing football at as high a level as possible," said Walton, who scored 14 goals in the Scottish League Third Division last season. "Vets are on call at night and are also expected to work Saturdays, which may make things difficult." James Herriot never attempted both jobs though he did borrow his name from a Birmingham goalkeeper of the Sixties.
As You Were
THE YOUNG Alex Ferguson (above) became a St Johnstone legend on 23 December 1963 when he scored a hat-trick against Rangers at Ibrox to produce one of the all-time shock results in Scottish football. Ferguson remains the only St Johnstone player ever to have scored a hat-trick against Rangers, whom he later joined. In 1974, he became the manager at East Stirling, and then - after a successful spell at St Mirren - at Aberdeen, where he won three Premier League titles, four Scottish FA Cups, a Scottish League Cup and the European Cup-Winners' Cup. In November 1986 he became the manager at Old Trafford, where he had to wait until 1990 to secure a major trophy, the FA Cup. The European Cup-Winners' Cup followed in 1991, and, amongst other triumphs, four Premiership titles. Losing is not something Ferguson likes, and although he seemed relaxed enough (right) at last Sunday's 3-0 Charity Shield defeat by Arsenal, he'll be planning not to repeat it.
The price is right
Blackburn's mighty pounds 7.5m gamble on Kevin Davies faces its first major test today, but he should prosper against Derby and pounds 2 on him to score the first goal at Ewood Park (best price 13/2 with the Tote) seems a good investment. Ian Wright, also taking a Premiership bow for a new club, will score the first goal at Hillsborough this afternoon in a 3- 1 win for West Ham. Of that we're so certain that 25p has been wagered on the permutation at 100/1 (Corals). Liverpool versus Southampton at The Dell tomorrow is this weekend's Desmond (match most likely to finish 2-2). The fixture ended 1-1 last season, and both sides have at least doubled their attacking potential since, so pounds 1 at 14/1 (generally available) is a must. Mark Hughes is prefered to Michael Owen to score the first goal and pounds 1 is on Sparky at 7-1 (generally) to do just that. Arsenal meet Nottingham Forest at Highbury on Monday, and as they trounced the newly promoted Bolton and Barnsley at home early last season, pounds 1 on the Gunners to win 4-0 is money well speculated, especially at 16-1 (generally).
NICK HARRIS'S SELECTIONS
Total kitty start: pounds 100
Total waged today: pounds 5.25 + 47p tax = pounds 5.72
ON THE BOARD
Name: Sam Chisholm.
Position: Non-executive director of Tottenham Hotspur plc.
Form: Chief executive and managing director of BSkyB for seven years (until last year); previously head of Australia's Nine Network for 15 years; currently deputy chairman of the New Millennium Experience, aka The Millennium Dome.
Big Ideas: When Chisholm was appointed to the board last Tuesday, Spurs' chairman, Alan Sugar, said: "Sam's knowledge of international broadcasting and future trends in the industry will be a major asset to Tottenham Hotspur plc." Chisholm, a New Zealander who was one of Rupert Murdoch's most powerful executives, said: "Football is on the cusp of an exciting era and I am delighted to be given the opportunity to contribute to it."
In other words, he'll be paving the way for pay-per-view, and is in an excellent position to advise Spurs when the Premier League opens talks next year with bidders wanting to screen live football. Will also be a shrewd advisor with inside knowledge should the Office of Fair Trading rule current TV deals - with BSkyB and the BBC - are restrictive and clubs become able to negotiate their own TV deals rather than collectively inside the Premier League.
Nicknamed "the rottweiler" for his tenacity in negotiations, Chisholm suffers from asthma, a condition which led to him stepping down from the chief executive's job at BSkyB last year. Presumably thinks the Spurs' job won't be too much of a good wheeze.
Self-confessed media whore and editor of the on-line newspaper, football365.
"Out of luck - terrible luck some might say - I was born and brought up in Islington, and therefore an automatic candidate to be an Arsenal fan. A family friend, Andy Nolan, took me to see them against West Brom in the early Sixties, and then the next week he took me to Tottenham. For some reason, as a six-year-old I liked the white shirts. Even then I knew the team wearing red were the Foreign Office team - embodiment of the dour British establishment - and the team in white were rock and roll."
Seen But Not Bought
THE VERY attractive "Lombardo Wig" from the Crystal Palace gift shop. This item is a must for all fans who want to don something which resembles a tight, rubber shower cap, but has none of the shower cap's style. A bargain at just pounds 2.99, the wig will help you to fool your friends into thinking you're the Italian maestro, especially if you speak pidgin English and maintain a chirpy demeanour in the face of spending another season at Selhurst Park.
Who Ate All The pies?
HUDDERSFIELD TOWN'S Alfred McAlpine Stadium is arguably the best ground in England for pigging out on pork. Not only can supporters feast on spit-roasted hot pork sandwiches (pounds 2.60), they can buy bulging bacon sarnies (pounds 2.00) and find filling Frankfurters (pounds 2.00). The Holland's Pies, in several varieties (pounds 1.50), are the best-seller, with pastry as tasty - but more delicate - than the football.
They're Not all Dennis Bergkamp
Unsung foreign legionnaires No 1
STEPHANE POUNEWATCHY: The French 30-year old defensive supremo of the Carlisle United side relegated from the Second to the Third Division in May. Currently on a one-month contract with Dundee in the Scottish Premier League. Previously played with the French sides, Guegnon - whom he helped to attain relegation from the First to Second Division in 1995/6 - and before that Martigues, another club who have been up and down in recent years. Valued at up to pounds 500,000, he moved to Carlisle for nothing on a Bosman, and for nothing again to just-promoted Dundee, who can be sure he'll be valuable in their efforts to stay up (but perhaps not that valuable, as they have yet to decide if he'll get another month's contract).