Recently scouting has been in the spotlight more and more. Leicester City’s success in the transfer market and the breakthrough of young English talents such as Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford has shown the vital role that they play for football clubs. I spoke to David Hobson who has been a scout for 17 years, working for Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers and Manchester United. In March 2014 he co-founded the Professional Football Scouts Association (PFSA) which looks to represent and train scouts worldwide. David’s co-founder Purves Ali, who controls the direction of the PFSA, still works as a scout for Manchester United and is also an Independent Business Consultant. I asked David about his experiences and about the PFSA.
How did you become a scout?
My son used to play football and one day a scout, Bill Hurst, came along. I was talking to him and he gave me his phone number to come down and watch more games. He came to watch a couple of times and one day I asked him if he was coming to the next game and he said that he’d finished football scouting. I don’t know what made me say it but I said “I wouldn’t mind doing something like that myself.” They’d offered the position to a policeman and he said that if he doesn’t want the job I’ll give you a ring. Three months later I got a call from Bill and he said “The policeman has packed up, do you want a job as a football scout for Blackburn Rovers?” I said of course and went to an interview, where they said they’d sign me for Blackburn Rovers and I was over the moon. One day a player I’d mentioned to them was getting off the team bus and I went over to see him. They hadn’t let me know he’d signed on and said they’d been too busy. I spoke to Bill and said they aren’t responding to my emails or communicating with me and I feel like I’m wasting my talent and time. So he said “Do you want to go to Bolton Wanderers then?” I got put in charge of an area with ten scouts working underneath me. I was really enjoying myself and was asked a couple of times to join Manchester United but was happy where I was. I sent a couple of people to watch a player and they told me “he isn’t anywhere near good enough for us”, so I said “Well if he’s not good enough for you I can’t find anyone better than that.” They replied “Well if you can’t find better then you’d better leave Bolton Wanderers hadn’t you” The player was Matt Derbyshire who went on to play for England and Blackburn Rovers. I left Bolton and went to Manchester United where I was looking at younger players.
There are several types of scouts: a development scout who looks at players between 6, 7 and 8 year olds. They need to look for players that could potentially become a professional player. A youth scout operates with players between 10 and 14 year olds. A junior scout looks for between 14-16 year olds and international scouts for abroad etc. There are a number of people doing a number of jobs.
David became a development scout at Man Utd and one of the very first people that he brought in at Man Utd has just got his first professional contract at 18 years of age.
“It’s rewarding to see that person at 18 years of age and still see the player who you brought in at 6 years old. The one problem is when they get to that age; the player will no longer remember the part you played when they were much younger. It’s fantastic and a good rewarding thing to change people’s lives though, not many people can do that”
In the current situation, what is the best way of getting into the industry?
There’s never really been a way to get into the industry. That’s why in 2013 I sat down with my business partner and we said “There’s no way into football scouting, nobody knows anything about it and we have no one to turn to if we have a problem.” There were some scouts who had not had expenses paid or had been told their services weren’t needed any longer but there was no association. There’s an association for players, managers and physios, so why isn’t there one for scouts? Our association was never formed to run courses but one of the people I was working with at Man Utd has a masters degree in talent identification. The FA states that every scout must have a qualification in talent identification before they can become a scout, so that’s why we started the courses. All the courses are government accredited by the Northern College of Further Education (NCFE) and we are a direct learning centre so the qualifications are valid throughout the world. We have had a football clubs that have been in touch with us and asked if we could find them some scouts for certain areas. We take 10-14 on a course and I like to help people, so if there are some spare places and we’re running the course anyway, we allow people that we think can help their local community onto the course free of charge. One example is a couple of lads in Bradford were working with children in the mornings, so we brought them onto the course and then they tried to promote the players to clubs in the areas. One of them went on to work as a scout for Man Utd. We’ve tried to get more girls into football scouting, a couple of girls who were going to university came on the course and we helped get them a job scouting for Accrington Stanley.
What would be your advice and tips for someone going onto the course and trying to get a career as a scout?
When people come onto the course, we say to them that initially it’s a voluntary role until the PFSA can get into a situation where we can negotiate with clubs. We can make calls to football clubs so that scouts can get some experience that they need. Scouts get certificates in talent identification, child protection and basic match reporting from our courses.
We are an association to help everybody. We all work together as a team, if they want anything or to ask any questions or they want to shadow us when we’re out doing work that’s fine. We can arrange for them to go out to football trials too.
We’ve done a course in Australia and had a member of the MLS on the course. There is now a further more advanced course that goes into greater detail in match reporting and talent identification.
The PFSA have just introduced a new course this month which is a Level 1 Introduction to Football Scouting. There is much more information about the roles and the work of the PFSA on their website, as well additional guidance on how to get into football scouting and the courses they offer.