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on 8 August 2013
Amazon currently offer over 15,000 books on football and I am sure that the overwhelming majority are the ghosted memoirs of the latest pampered Premier League brat and originality is hard to come by.

Mike Calvin has been around Fleet Street for many years and has established a reputation for pithy columns that get to the nub of the matter and for his ability to eviscerate cant and hypocrisy.

His previous book "Family", a year in the life of Millwall took us inside the heart and soul of a football club and made us look at the club in a totally new light. The book was rightly acclaimed even if it wasn't totally original as he was following the example set by writers such as Hunter Davies but "The Nowhere Men" is totally different in every way.

Calvin has broken new ground and cast light on a hitherto ignored and unknown segment of the game, the scouts who are responsible for identifying and maintaining the pipeline of young talented players, some as young as the age of six.

He follows a group of scouts and becomes the fly on the wall, recording their conversations, insecurities, fears, whinges and even paranoia as they strive to discover the next potential superstar.

Like most people who spend an inordinate period of their lives working alone on the road and then on their backsides at football matches most scouts are garrulous individuals and their stories are explicit, razor sharp and do not spare the guilty and Calvin is an excellent listener and this book gives them their voice.

There are many footballers who will shrink at the honesty of the withering verdicts of their ability or heart or lack of it and their weaknesses are laid bare by the group of scouts whose job it is to assess em.

Men like the evergreen John Griffin and Mel Johnson are seasoned watchers of the game and able to make detailed assessements of a player's ability and likelihood to make a living from the game within a few moments of watching them.

You learn to watch the player and not the game itself which apparently is why many managers make poor scouts as they lack the singleminded ness required.

What is amazing is the cavalier fashion in which many scouts are treated, disposed of like old socks when a manager loses his job, working for expenses only and likely victims of the next palace revolution.

Calvin gives them their voice and reveals them as the unsung heroes that they are.

We hear fisherman's tales of the ones that got away and for all their camaraderie. and sense of togetherness the scouts are competing against eachother and try to pull the wool over their rivals' eye.

Calvin also lays open the current debate regarding the value of the traditional scout who trusts his eye, experience and judgment when assessing a player and the new breed of performance analysts who follow the Moneyball tradition of using statistics to make their choices.

There is an uneasy relationship between the two and this is a struggle that will continue.

The rich get richer but it is gratifying to read of smaller clubs such as Brentford who are punching way above their weight and are outperforming the bigger boys in the way in which they structure their youth development programme.

The book is 390 pages of pure gold dust, well written, sympathetic and insightful.

It did beg a few questions. Are there any female scouts and if not, why not as women are now contributing so well at all levels of the game?

We learn about the extraordinary range of player performance statistics provided by companies such as Prozone which are used by clubs to learn so much about how their own players perform in matches and training. Can clubs purchase such data about players at competitive clubs to help decide who best to purchase?

As you can see I finished this book bubbling with enthusiasm and having learned so much more about the Nowhere Men.

This is a totally original book that breaks new ground and it is sure to cause a stir within the game as well as provide rich entertainment to those who choose to read it.

I said at the time that Mike Calvin would do well to better "Family" but in this reader's opinion he has totally surpassed it.
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on 10 September 2013
Every football fan will love this book that provides fascinating insight into the world of scouting - from old school methods to new technological demands. Whilst the game may be richer than ever before, the scouts are often working many hours for pittance. Despite being a huge football supporter, football books had gone a bit stale on me. This book reversed the trend and was very hard to put down - brilliantly written, highly recommended.
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on 16 August 2015
The best thing that can be said about this book is that it is largely inoffensive. Then again, that's probably the worst thing that could be said about any book on football. It is not provocative or challenging, thought-provoking or startling.The author, essentially, speaks to a variety of scouts, largely in the south of England, and gets their views on what their job involves. Key points are made early on in the book. One is that scouts appear to be very poorly paid - Calvin portrays them as "anoraks" who are addicted to attending numerous low-grade football matches in the hope of spotting a rare talent. In return for such - largely-unrewarded - dedication, they are frequently jettisoned swiftly by the clubs when a new manager takes charge. His other major point is that, in the 21st century, there is a scouting conflict between using technology to assess and buy players and the traditional use of eyes, ears and gut instinct on the part of scouts. I have reached page 159 in the book and that's about all that can be gleaned from it. I won't be reading any more. Calvin simply interviews a series of scouts who huddle at the back of stands and are treated shabbily by host clubs but none of the scouts is distinguishable as a character, largely because the author, a journalist, lacks the ability to describe them as rounded individuals, instead seeing them as providers of endless "quotes", the way a newspaper hack tends to do. In one chapter, he simply stands back, runs his tape recorder and transcribes a three-way conversation between three experienced scouts. That's not writing - that's acting as a stenographer. That symbolises just how there is no real author's voice in this book. How it won The Times' Sports Book of the Year for 2014 is one of the great mysteries of our time.
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on 16 June 2015
Really disappointed with this. It was basically a series of brief stories about a great many scouts which were all much of a muchness. The central point the author wanted to make was that scouts have a really unglamorous life. He makes it again and again and again.
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on 9 September 2013
I picked up this book on the recommendation of some fellow fans and thought it was a great read.

Well paced, well written and very revealing The Nowhere Men gives a detailed account of what goes on behind the closed doors of the scouting rooms and the interactions the clubs have with them.

What caught me by surprise was the very downbeat tone of much of the book and the bleakness experienced by the scouts both in the places they visit and the disposable nature of their profession. But this serves to make the book more compelling and proves it really is a 'warts and all' expose of what really goes on in football.

No punches are pulled and whilst there is an inherent sympathy for the people within the scouting profession, they are always kept at arms length to really analyse what they do and the differing schools of thought inherent in football.
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on 12 October 2015
For the top,top players in the football industry there's multi-million pound contracts and fame and a sort of glamour.
Calvin's book examines diametrically opposite end of the industry; the scouts who try to identify the talent and put them on the
first rung of the ladder. It is an almost thankless task done by a sump of has been managers, players and never-have-beens.
It is untouched by glamour of any kind.

The memoirs of ex-players are really quite samey; read one - Simon Hughes': The Men in White Suits is good - and then read this and you'll have things covered.
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on 7 October 2013
To add context I read this book in a week, and if I'm honest, I think that's how it needs to be read.

It's a fascinating insight into the world of scouting, and more importantly, the people who give so much, for so little, and are being marginalised more and more, as football becomes richer and richer and attempts to become more risk adverse.

It's a book that for me started slowly, with good reason. It builds characters which comes to fruition halfway through as you feel as though you know the main characters (I think I can almost visualise Mel and his son Jamie Johnson).

Overall I found the book to boil down to the age old battle, between art and science. The art comes from the traditional scout, who can watch a player time and time again, and their "gut" will tell them if they are top quality (take the story about Rocastle as a perfect example) while the science element comes from the data analysts, the new boys, the "geeks".

It provides a brilliant balance, and while I feel Michael errs towards the traditional scout as his favourite, he essentially gives good arguments for both.

In the end, I know a lot of people who would enjoy reading this book. I don't think it's necessarily one for the "Championship Manager" generation, but rather those who feel they understand the intricacies of football, but after reading this, will probably admit, myself included, they haven't got a clue.

A thoroughly brilliant holiday read and I would easily read another of Michael's books in a heartbeat.
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on 1 May 2015
A cracking book about the unsung work of the talent scouts who trawl the country, watching school, junior and non league football in the hope of coming across a "diamond in the rough".
I first came across the book on a display table in a well known book chain. When, twenty minutes later, my partner asked me where I had been, I realised that I should be buying the book rather than obstructing the aisle.
I have been delighted with my purchase, and would recommend it as an informative read for those who do not believe that talented Premier League footballers emerge from the cupboard beneath the stairs.
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on 5 September 2013
A fantastic read - Whether you are on the outside looking into the game or already in the inner the circle, this book is fascinating. An amazing and unique insight to a side of the game that is steeped in folklore. Highly Recommended to anyone interested in the game.
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on 5 March 2015
Reading the cover the reviews make it sound great, however I found it slow and that it didn't flow. It doesn't lead you on a story, it is more a recollection of mismatched experiences and overheard conversations. The idea is still very good, as an insight into an world few see, but I personally struggled to finish it.
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