The Nowhere Men by Michael Calvin (Arrow Books, 2014)

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Finding that one true gem, the player that will go on to become a household name is akin to finding a needle in a haystack, being struck by lightning, or winning the lottery. Given the amount of players who currently make it through the academy system, and the general apathy towards the lower leagues, it gives you an idea of how hard a scouts job is.

Many football fans would imagine it to be the dream job. Watching as many matches as possible, getting close to the movers and shakers of the game. But if Michael Calvin’s excellent account is anything to go by, the scouting game is anything but glamorous. The renowned and award-winning journalist and author spent a season on the road, accompanying some of the game’s longest-serving scouts, standing on terraces with them and seeing what makes them tick. It appears such a lonely profession, one with hours spent trudging up and down motorways, eating in service stations and getting grief from the family due to persistent absence. Top that off with peanuts for pay and the threat of being axed every time a management team chops and changes. But they keep going back for more, chasing that dream that they will discover the next big thing. Calvin captures all of these insecurities brilliantly, and creates a real sympathy with the protagonists of the book

The evolving door of football means that even after a couple of years the names in the book can be a bit outdated as people move on. David Moyes was still at the manager at Everton at the time of writing, Jonjo Shelvey at Liverpool and Luke Shaw at Southampton to name a few examples. The passing of time cannot be helped, and if anything, reading it now, a few seasons after the events took places, makes you feel as if you were looking into a crystal ball. You can read about players that were perhaps unknown at the time, and see if they’ve made it. Some have, and some haven’t, and herein lies the difficulty in the job of a scout. Modern technology and statistical analysis have flooded the game, making some of the most experienced and revered scouts of recent memory redundant, which is really sad. However, there seems to be a school of thought that only by studying statistics and seeing a player with the naked eye can you really make an accurate report. Perhaps the traditional form of scouting will live on.

It is amazing how undervalued these men are and the equally amazing the lengths they go to to be a part of the game. The Nowhere Men don’t do it for the money, but clearly for the adrenaline rush that one day they will be the ones in the right place, at the right time.

Follow Dan on Twitter @winkveron

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