New Michael Calvin book goes inside the world of football's shadowy army of star spotters


Early indications are that Michael Calvin, whose insider story of Millwall football club, Family: Life, Death and Football, gained a British Sports Book Awards nomination, has delivered another gem in The Nowhere Men, a journey into the lives of football's vast army of talent scouts.

The Nowhere Men (Century) is among a clutch of football titles just published as the new season begins to stir into life. New biographies of Denis Law, Kenny Swain and Jimmy Adamson, a book spotlighting the hidden history of women's football, Rio Ferdinand's pictorial autobiography and the story of Mansfield Town's return to the Football League have also hit the shelves in the last few days.

Calvin, nowadays chief sports writer for the Independent on Sunday, was not the first to provide an intimate portrait of a football club from behind the scenes, much as Family deserved its plaudits.  With The Nowhere Men, however, he breaks new ground.

Scouts are 'everywhere yet nowhere' as the book description advises. They are the shadowy figures, almost anonymous by the self-promoting standards of modern football, watching from the stands or on windy touchlines, making decisions that may ultimately be worth millions.  Calvin enters their hidden world, recording their conversations, revealing their fears and insecurities, a fly on the wall as they go about their business, often spending hours on the road with only their expenses paid.

He reveals them to be individuals full of rich anecdotes, about great discoveries and the ones that got away, some blessed with a razor sharp ability to determine within a few moments if a player has or does not have what it takes, others who insist that only the forensic examination of statistics and performance analysis can facilitate an informed decision.  He shows that behind their camaraderie can lie suspicion and distrust as each endeavours to protect his own secrets.

Among the new biographies, Rio: My Decade as a Red (Bonnier Books) is a largely photographic celebration of Rio Ferdinand's career containing more than 300 images, but supported by his own comments and perspective on the key moments of his life both on and off the pitch.  It also includes the voices of significant people in Rio's life, including players he has known and worked alongside, as well as celebrity friends, some of which can be heard via smartphone or tablet through an interactive element of the book.

More conventional methods tell the story of Jimmy Adamson in Burnley chronicler Dave Thomas's latest work, Jimmy Adamson: The Man Who Said No to England (Pitch Publishing).

Adamson was a Burnley legend, an elegant player of the '50s and early '60s who became a respected coach. In 1962, having been Walter Winterbottom's coaching assistant at the World Cup in Chile, Adamson was invited to become England manager, to take the position that would bring a place in football folklore to Alf Ramsey, but turned the chance down.

Instead, after retiring as a player, he succeeded Harry Potts as Burnley manager, presiding over their relegation from the First Division in his first season but predicting the team would go on to be the dominant force of the 70s after winning the Second Division title in 1973, only to be let down by despotic chairman Bob Lord policy of selling the team's best players. He was sacked in 1976, moving first to Sunderland and then Leeds, where he endured two torrid years before quitting thre game, broken and disillusioned. Thomas tells a poignant story of what might have been.

Pat Symes, 35 years a journalist for national newspapers, radio and TV, ghosts the autobiography of former Middlesbrough, Southampton and England winger David Armstrong, entitled The Bald Facts (Pitch Publishing).  One of the most naturally gifted footballers of the 70s and 80s, Armstrong's career was one of spectacular ups and downs, in which losing most of his hair by the time he was 21 turned out to be the least of his problems.

Armstrong turned down Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest and Manchester United, choosing to spend a decade with Middlesbrough, for whom he played 356 consecutive matches. Then came a move to Southampton, playing in a star-studded team alongside Kevin Keegan, Alan Ball and Mick Channon, and most pundits felt he would have made more than just three appearances for England had he enjoyed a better relationship with Bobby Robson.

The downside of his life saw him sign on the dole and endure the turmoil of a broken marriage, with bailiffs at his door as he struggled to pay his debts.  Meanwhile, a series of ankle operations left him effectively disabled.

Current England Under-16 and Under-17 head coach Kenny Swain tells his story in A Game of Three Halves (Pitch Publishing), penned with the help of Midlands writer Brian Beard.

Swain quit teaching to sign for Chelsea, the glamour club of the 1970s, where he played as a striker, then joined Aston Villa he helped them win the First Division championship and European Cup as a full back. He also played for Brian
Clough at Nottingham Forest and paints a personal picture of the charismatic and controversial manager. Portsmouth and Crewe were his last clubs in a career that saw him play more than 100 games for five different clubs.   His work with England has seen him oversee the development of players from Michael Owen to Danny Welbeck.

Scottish journalist Alex Gordon, whose five books include the recently published Celtic: The Awakening, has written a new portrait of former Manchester United and Scotland striker Denis Law the focuses on Law's international career.

Denis Law: King and Country (Arena Sport) celebrates Law's 30 goals in 52 games, his part in the famous 3-2 win over world champions England at Wembley in 1967 and his role in the Scotland team that won their way through to the 1974 World Cup Finals in West Germany, the first time the Scots had reached the finals in 16 years. Gordon interviews an array of former teammates, including Willie Henderson, Davie Hay, John Greig, Pat Crerand, Tommy Gemmell, and international opponents such as Gordon Banks, George Best and Bobby Charlton, who recall the combination of impudence and intelligence, class and clout that set Law apart from his contemporaries.

Women's football has earned a deservedly enhanced profile in recent years with domestic and international competitions improving in quality year by year.  But the women's game has a secret history, revealed by Tim Tate in Girls With Balls (John Blake), a story which exposes the ruthless chauvinism of the male-dominated Football Association in somewhat embarrassing detail.

While England's menfolk were engaged on the battlefields of Europe from 1914-1918, most of the workers in the factories of northern England were women. Many factories had a ladies' football team.   In December 1917, the team from the Dick, Kerr munitions factory in Preston challenged the ladies of the nearby Arundel Coulthard Foundry to a charity match. It was the first of 828 games for Dick, Kerr Ladies as over the decades they scored more than 3,500 goals and raised the equivalent of £1 million for charities.

By 1920, ladies football was a major spectator sport. One match involving the Preston team, on Boxing Day 1920, attracted a crowd of 53,000 to Goodison Park in Liverpool, eager to see players who had become the celebrities of their day, their the biggest draw in British football.

Yet away from the cheering terraces, the bastions of professional men's football viewed the mass popularity of women's soccer with increasing alarm. In December 1921, an FA committee meeting in London voted unanimously to ban women's football from all professional football grounds. Dick,  Kerr Ladies did not give in, playing their matches on parkland, still with thousands of spectators turning up to watch, but one by one, teams began to fold. Incredibly, it would be 50 years before the ban was lifted -- although just too late for Dick, Kerr Ladies, who subsequently became Preston Ladies.  They disbanded in 1969.

Matt Halfpenny, a lifelong Mansfield Town fan who reported on his hometown club between 2006 and 2012 for the Nottingham Post, has preserved the detail of the team's momentous 2012-13 season in Stag Party: The Inside Story of Mansfield Town's Return Football League(Maverick Press), which tells the story of Mansfield's return to the Football League.

The Stags, champions of the Conference Premier after a season that also saw them give Liverpool a run for their money in an FA Cup tie at what used to be known as Field Mill, clinched promotion with their first title in any league since 1977.

Halfpenny spoke to all the major figures involved in the successful campaign – including manager Paul Cox, chairman John Radford and a host of players.   The 264-page book also features 24 pages of stunning colour images.   A percentage of profits from the book will be split between Nottingham City Hospital’s Prostate Cancer Appeal and the Lincs and Notts Air Ambulance Service.

Matt points out that Stag Party is also available via the Stagsnet supporters' website should it not be available from Amazon.

Also out this month -- two more additions to the When Football Was Football series published by J H Haynes & Co, featuring Birmingham City -- by Ralph Ellis -- and Nottingham Forest, by Ivan Ponting.

Click on the links for more information and how to buy.



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