As a recent sports journalist graduate from Hertfordshire, I felt honoured when I was invited to become the first female qualified football scout with the Professional Football Scouts Association.
The PFSA was formed by experienced Premier League scouts and is the latest association to be welcomed into the football family.
Although there’s a Football Coaching Association, a Managers’ Association and a Professional Football Association, a Scouts Association didn’t exist, until now. That’s the missing piece of the jigsaw.
Five years ago, the seed was set for the PFSA. Manchester United and Manchester City back the Lancashire based association, which was founded by Man United scout Purves Ali.
“The main inspiration was to be respected by the football community as a whole, for every scout, not just myself,” Purves said.
“I know how hard it is to go out there on your own. It’s a lonely job and it isn't financially rewarding and you think: ‘Why can’t we change it?’ So we put something together.”
Purves, who has scouted for United for ten years now, started his career in football by coaching the team his six-year-old son played in. He quickly got recognised for his talents.
“I got offered a job through Burnley and turned it down,” he said. “I got offered a job through Blackburn and turned that down too.
"Then when United came knocking on my door I thought: ‘What are they after? I’m only a coach, not a scout’. It just evolved into scouting and I’ve never looked back, it’s brilliant.”
Since the association’s lift off in December last year, the team have now completed five football-scouting courses, with at least six attendees off each course being from Man United and Man City.
The course I attended was the fourth the PFSA ran and at the end of it, I walked away with a City and Guilds and NCFE accredited and awarded qualification.
The course was based at Accrington and Rossendale College, consisted of two days and cost each attendee £600.
Upon arrival I was quickly paired up with Justin Goodchild, a scout from Stoke City and was told by Purves to network. I later found out this was his favourite word and he drilled it into our heads how important it is.
Once everyone arrived, we were shown to the classroom that was our study den for the two days.
There were many attendees on my course, both experienced and new to the game, but even the experienced felt they had learnt a lot by the last day.
Coaches and scouts came from Man United, Man City, Stoke City, Oldham Athletic and Celtic. The furthest traveller to attend the course was from Cambodia.
“It’s hard work, not easy and you’ve got to know your football,” Purves said. “I look at it as a business opportunity. If I said to somebody: ‘For £600; I’ll give you a business opportunity, come and learn how to become a scout’.
“Scouting can be aimed at people from the age of 16 onwards. At the fourth course one attendee was in his 60s, so there’s no age specific.”
All the attendees on my course had the same goal; they completed the course to feel more valued.
Football scouts are on call 24 hours a day, they discover players like Cristiano Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney yet get a tiny slice of the extremely large pie in return.
“What professional footballers get paid, the money in the game and what we get paid is a pittance. It doesn’t add up,” Purves said.
“A scout has to have everything in one: research, time management, communication, mannerism, respect, quality, smart appearance and proper treatment towards people. You’ve got to know how to release players and deal with the sensitive stuff as well.”
The course taught me every aspect of the scouting job. From talent indicators and talent development, to analysing other football clubs. One big topic of the day was ‘soldier versus artist’ - a soldier being your average Joe in football and the artist being a Leo Messi or Ronaldo.
Predictors of talent were spoken about at length – physical, sociological, psychological and technical. Physical and technical attributes were obviously the main points scouts looked for but I couldn’t help over-thinking the psychological element.
Throughout the course a lot of outrageous comments were flying around the room. But one that really stuck in my head was: “Players are talked about like cattle.” The statement summed up the job of a scout perfectly but in an extremely harsh way.
Parental behaviour and legal frameworks were also discussed as well as how to deal with any family issues that players may have, and every single attendee had undergone their child protection evaluations.
A lot of written work was involved in the course as I learnt how to write player reports and team assessments. During the second day, I put what I learnt into practice when watching video footage of football games.
John O’Kane, a former English professional footballer and part of Manchester United’s ‘Class of 92’ was an attendee on my course.
The 39-year-old, who is looking to become a full-time scout, said: “Although I've been around football most of my life, the amount of detail that is needed to report on a player or team and identify a player isn't as easy as I thought.
“Anyone who thinks they know how to spot talent or report on it, they will be massively shocked by the amount of time and effort that is required and the correct way to construct a detailed report.”
One other attendee was Tom Tatford, a talent development executive from Questra Group, a sporting agency based in Oxfordshire.
“From working at a football agency, I think it is important to understand what scouts are looking for and how they identify talent, so there is a clear understanding between the two parties,” Tom said.
Steven Jackson, a football coach from Man City also undertook the course and added: “From the experience of working with the Premier League, I feel the game needs professional scouts and scouting should become a profession with qualified staff.
“I believe scouts should be rewarded for the work they do just like any other profession. With courses like this ran by the PFSA, I hope it stops bogus scouts selling young players the dream and trying to make money off players desperate to make it.”
The future is looking bright for the PFSA. “The clubs are taking it seriously, like United, and they’re thinking it’s the way forward,” Purves said.
“Down south, Chelsea and Reading are interested. We’ve also had good conversations with Blackburn Rovers, Preston North End, Blackpool, Bolton Wanderers and Bury.
“We started local because we are local but now I think we need to branch out,” Purves admitted. “Europe, France, Germany and America have come onboard and want to get involved as well. We aren’t equipped just yet to go that far but it’s going to happen.
“We’ve got the right people behind us but we want to work with the FA, the Premier League, the Football League, League Managers Association and the PFA as well. We’re just doing something first to show them our stats and do it that way around, so we don’t get carried away.
“We’re a big voice for the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. There’s nothing out there. So whatever we do we’re adding value and scouts are going to get on it, that’s the way I see it.”