Top positive review
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Original and thought provoking
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.