Most helpful critical review
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.