Having already read and enjoyed one of Michael Calvin’s previous books, Family: Life, Death and Football: A Year on the Frontline with a Proper Club, which covered his year at Millwall; a club ingrained into the local community and a world away from the glitz and fortunes of the Premier League, I was looking forward to another look at the slightly less glamorous side of football. The individuals who are busy trying to find the next Beckham or Rooney, whether it be at the park at an under 11’s game, watching a youth game where there might be some rough diamonds needing a bit of coaching and TLC, or deciding if a player really is worth the expenditure of a small country’s GDP. It’s all covered in the book, from David Moyes’ secret room where he keeps tabs on the players he wants and even the players he’s already got, the former players and managers doing scouting for free to keep their foot in the football door, the long serving men in caps who are discarded without a thought when a new broom sweeps through a club.
The Nowhere Men starts where Family left off, in the company of Millwall’s Chief Scout Jamie Johnson and his father, Mel, scout for Liverpool, taking in a Chelsea youth team game. It is interesting seeing the names involved, particularly a year or so on when a few have started to make their mark in the game, and understand the views of those watching them. Calvin quickly has to learn that going to watch a player is not as simple as going to watch a game, it is a far harder concept as the concentration must solely be on the player, how he reacts to certain situations, and his concentration when the ball is nowhere near. The pressure is on them to produce accurate analysis as the club’s manager’s reputation and indeed job may depend on it, particularly the smaller clubs who cannot afford a costly error.
The book also looks at the development of the scout’s role. Not only are they looking at a player’s ability on the pitch, but they are also required to produce a full report on the player’s lifestyle and any baggage they may bring with them. The clash between the traditional cap wearing old guy who’s knowledge over hundreds and thousands of games meets the modern technology and statistics. An interesting example which cropped up would be the pass accuracy statistic that is used so much these days, particularly with the increased use of Tika Taka type football. Some clubs might ask a player to play the ball into space rather than to feet in an effort to force the opposition to retreat and force set pieces higher up the pitch, and yet that player might have a much lower pass completion rate but yet is performing all this is asked of him from a tactical point of view.
A question that cropped up from reading the book was whether the job of a scout was one worth doing for an individual’s perspective. There are so many examples of clubs taking advantage of loyal employees, paying them no more than expenses for a job that is nevertheless surely vital to a club’s development. A new management team or owner arrives and different perspectives on the way to succeed see the shortsighted removal of someone whose knowledge of both the club and the players could be valuable. Someone who could be a constant in an increasingly volatile football world. But through the woes, the book shows just how passionate these men are about the game and their profession, and their delight at seeing one of their “finds” succeeding shines through, and it seems is happily reciprocated by the players themselves.
Lower down the age groups, a glimpse of the problems for English football, as we get an understanding of the pressures on clubs who despite being highly skilled at developing the young talent are being increasingly challenged by the Premier League’s much discussed EPPP model. Where young players will be offered unbelievable riches despite it being less likely they will ever make a career out of the game or make a 1st team appearance. The example of a well respected Brentford scout who is given short shrift by a promising youngster’s team’s coach, who is more interested in whether he will lose his star player than whether that player might just get an opportunity most only dream of.
This is a real look under the lid of the game, a well written and narrated journey through areas of football most supporters see little of, but is probably taking place at every game they attend. An understanding of the realities of the beautiful game, and a must read for anyone who loves the game as a whole and not just an overhyped TV show. The Nowhere Men is available from Amazon in both Kindle and Hardback now.