All football clubs have them – scouts. Men (for they are almost always men) who watch teams to check how they play, who watch players to see how good they are. Even in these high tech days of video analysis and Prozone (a system which tells how far each player has run in a game, how many passes and how successful they were etc.) football clubs could not operate without the human element of scouting.
Les Padfield, though, is not your typical scout. Not many are published poets! A Londoner, he was a schoolboy footballer of great promise – as he writes, Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager, used to provide the crosses for him to score when they were schoolboys. He chose though to become a teacher of Physical Education, English and other subjects.
He became a scout when, having been persuaded to attend a match at Millwall he meets an old friend, John Sainty, the chief scout at Preston North End. Sainty tells Les that the club’s manager, David Moyes, is looking for a London-based scout. And even though Les moved on to Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League, the title ‘Scouting for Moyes’ was too good to resist.
Les tells of the frustrations of the job, the perks – a trip to Nigeria to watch a teenage prodigy who revealed he preferred to study medicine – and the precarious nature of football life. Gary Megson, Bolton’s manager who had also employed Les when he was in charge at West Bromwich Albion and Nottingham Forest, is sacked at the end of 2009.
Les also offers the insight of a professional into the world,of football. Surprisingly his views are very often those of an outright fan.
His royalties from the book will be donated to Cancer Research.
gem of a book
With so many hi-tech tools available for managers to assess players these days, it's possibly a surprise that football scouts, like Saturday-evening pink 'uns and balls with laces, haven't been relegated to history. But most League clubs still employ a network of trusted observers to run the rule over potential transfer targets and prepare reports on forthcoming opponents, and Les Padfield, a teacher in his day job, started scouting for Preston under David Moyes and is currently clocking up the motorway miles for Bolton Wanderers. His behind-the-scenes stories of this tight-knitworld are funny, intelligent and illuminating, made all the more enjoyable by his evident love for the game – an East Ender, he was a more than useful schoolboy player and interested Leyton Orient and Millwall, though when he visits Spurs as a scout, his former junior team-mate Harry Redknapp gives him the blank. He can be sharp – he describes three Bolton players as "not only too slow for yelled instructions from the touchline but too slow for smoke signals" – and gets frustrated when his reports are ignored, but his attitude is generally one of wry, self-deprecatory amusement. From a failed attempt to watch Bromley versus Sturrock during last year's big freeze to an abortive trip to Nigeria to scout a player who then announces he has decided to become a doctor instead, from dropping his mobile phone down the lavatory at Wembley to being pressganged into service as the fourth official for Orient against Scunthorpe, Padfield remains a glass-half-full man. A scout with talent of his own, he has produced a little gem of a book about one of the lesser-known aspects of the League scene, which is a far more enjoyable read than any number of ghostwritten player biographies.
... humour and insight ... very readable, entertaining and insightful.