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The spying game: England’s security paranoia at Euro 16

It’s not just terrorism fears... they think their rivals are watching

11 June 2016

9:00 AM

11 June 2016

9:00 AM

In the few days I’ve spent in Paris, I’d say the terror alert level is fluctuating between a little antsy, really quite nervous and eye-twitching, hair-tearing, run for your lives woo-woo. People still go about their business, but there are wary looks on the Metro and a palpable sense that they could really do without the stress of hosting a major international football tournament, what with so many nutters running about and the Belgians useless, as usual.

Last week, a colleague covering the French Open was travelling to Roland-Garros when a couple began having a domestic which cleared the carriage at the next stop. I had a similar experience shortly after 9/11. The captain of our plane aborted landing because there was already a light aircraft on the runway and we thought the woman in the seat next to me would have to be shot with an elephant tranquilliser gun.

Travel was much more fun when the worst that could happen was Leonard Rossiter slinging a Cinzano down your blouse.

It is not just the threat of terrorism that is bringing heightened security to France for the duration of the European Championship tournament. Paranoia levels in the England camp are elevated, as usual, with 9 ft tarpaulin now going up around England’s training base in Chantilly.


The fear is that opposition spies will somehow learn England’s secrets. So the Football Association is imposing its standard counter-intelligence measures, with security guards perched on any vantage points considered to have a half-view of the practice pitch. England has also turned down the offer of training at match venues the day before games. They’re clearly hoping opposition narks failed to notice John Stones’s last six months at Everton, Chris Smalling’s performance in the FA Cup final, or whatever the hell it was England’s forwards were up to against Portugal.

Graham Taylor was another security-conscious England manager. In 1993, playing a World Cup qualifier in Oslo, he became convinced that the team co-ordinator provided by the Norwegian FA was a spy. On the eve of the game, Taylor switched training locations and, distracting the poor chap with a fake telephone call at hotel reception, instructed the coach driver to depart without him. England then trained at a military sports centre, watched only by local wildlife and the chief sports correspondent of Norway’s biggest selling newspaper, VG, whose house happened to back on to the ground. Photographs, and every last detail of the secret training session, duly appeared on its front page the next day.

England lost 2-0.

Lee Chapman, a 29-year-old postman from Leicester, bears a striking resemblance to the England team’s man of the moment, Jamie Vardy. So much so that the Royal Mail have given him six months off to pursue his lucrative 15 minutes of fame. Not so keen, apparently, is Vardy — who has gone from inviting Chapman to join Leicester City’s title-winning celebrations to blocking him on Twitter and Instagram. Chapman now claims to have received a text message from Vardy’s agent warning him against any behaviour that would put the striker’s endorsements at risk.

As Vardy spent six months wearing an electronic tag after an assault conviction in 2007, and was caught on video last summer behaving in a very objectionable way to a gentleman of East Asian appearance in a casino, it’s fair to say that Chapman has significant wriggle room in his new career.

Brian Glanville deservedly received recognition for his outstanding contribution to sports writing at the Cross Sports Book Awards last week. His published work will stand the test of time, but probably my favourite Glanville line was the one he reserved for the most splenetic correspondents. ‘On reflection, you’re probably right,’ Glanville would reply to letters sent by readers of his Sunday Times column. Not all of his contemporaries were as well regarded, intellectually. Harry Harris, former chief football writer of the Daily Mirror, was once described as ‘a man who’s written more books than he’s read’. I can’t say by whom.

It turns out that Great Western railways, the poorest performers at the Rugby World Cup aside from the England team, are not alone in their cavalier attitude to getting folk home. With just days to go before the Euro 2016 tournament begins, there is still no word on whether SNCF, the French national railway service, will provide extra trains to get fans back from games at night. They ‘might’, apparently; or stranded fans ‘might’ end up sleeping rough if they don’t.

It’s always a lark following England.

Martin Samuel is chief sports writer of the Daily Mail.

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