Gareth Owen: Scouting missions broaden horizons during injury absence
I M delighted to report that I've returned to full training after my groin surgery. It's been a frustrating time because all I've wanted to do is be out on the pitch helping the team pick up points.
But while I've been on the sidelines, Micky Adams has still had me playing a crucial role – by sending me out scouting.
And I don't mean sitting around a camp fire, singing songs... but spying on future opposition and players.
To be honest, I didn't know what to expect – or even do – when I was sent on my first mission on a cold November afternoon to Grimsby.
Ruark HiFi - for lovers of good music and fantastic sound
Headphone offer is our own offer as test for these vouchers - so don't delay offer expires 25/05/13
Only with this voucher, choose a set of headphones up to 10% of the units price or add some to it if you want a dearer set
ie Unit for £300 would give you £30 towards headphones of your choice
Contact: 01782 342609
Valid until: Saturday, May 25 2013
In my mind, I had visions of old men in trench coats talking of years gone by and how football had changed.
There was an old guy there, but that was it. Just me and him. And a stand full of Grimsby fans.
I found out he was from Scunthorpe and didn't have anything better to do that afternoon, while I was there to file a report to the gaffer for the FA Cup tie the following week.
I never stopped writing all game. I was petrified I would miss something that might cost us a goal – I must have used half an A4 pad during the 90 minutes.
It wasn't easy to concentrate because I was sitting right among the Grimsby season-ticket holders.
I think the club must have seen I was from Port Vale and so found me in the worst viewing point possible.
I had people nudging me, fans berating referees and two guys behind me discussing what they were doing that night. I lasted 15 minutes before moving to the back row for some peace. It was just me and the pigeons.
I managed to file the report. Basically it's my job to report back on the formation and personnel used in a particular match, plus the heights and kicking feet of the players and their other attributes.
I also highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the team I'm observing and checking how they line up at set-pieces.
All-in-all, I have to give the gaffer an idea about what our team might face in upcoming matches.
Scouting comes in two forms – opposition scouting, like I mentioned, and player scouting.
Player scouting involves looking at potential recruits and whether they fit the bill for Vale.
Of course, we are not always looking for players, but by taking in games you can build up dossiers about those available and your options in different positions should you suddenly be left short.
The gaffer has a long list of contacts and players after years in the game, and you only have to look at Jennison Myrie-Williams and Guy Madjo to see how he can use the loan market.
I went to watch potential recruits at a Bolton reserves versus Manchester United reserves match.
After the limited number of scouts at Grimsby, this was different. There were pages and pages of names of scouts from as far north as Inverness Caledonian Thistle and as far south as Portsmouth and Plymouth Argyle.
All of us were scribbling away over details of some of the players on show, but whether we could afford the likes of Martin Petrov or Darren Pratley is another matter.
I did like the look of a young United player called William Keane. He had just made his debut for United in the Carling Cup, and obviously has a big future in the game.
Scouts are vital to any football club. When I used to coach a Sunday pub side, I used to send my mate Tom Holdcroft to watch potential opponents in big cup competitions.
We managed to win five trophies that year, and his work was a major reason why we were successful.
Not all scouts are good, though.
At one club in my career, I swear the chief scout either watched a different game or used to make his reports up.
He would say one guy was small when, in fact, he was a giant, or one particular player was very slow only for him to then burst past everybody with blistering pace.
I managed to catch him out once when I went to watch a game he had claimed to be at. He wasn't there.
I later questioned him about one particular player. His reply was "big, mobile with good feet, had a blinder". In reality, the same player had a nightmare and was substituted.
"Really?" I said, "I thought he was subbed." "Oh," he mumbled, "well he must have done OK, he was marked as a seven in the paper!"
Scouting is a major part of football. There are good scouts and bad ones, but the information they provide can be the difference between winning and losing.