Saturday, February 27, 2010

Scout's honour

Slightly on the late side for this beggar who is also a bit of a chooser, Elche-Levante kicked off at 2100 hours and, thanks to Canal+,  the home side had an unheard of Friday evening opportunity to do their hated Alicante rivals a small favour. Somehow, (more later), their opponents for the evening had risen to fourth place in the table not many points behind Hercules at the top of the classification, so the Alicantino's would grudgingly be hoping for a home win. The usual match day routine at Elche is to arrive thirty minutes or so before kick off and mooch about a bit trying to look professional in the tunnel area before the teams emerge before squatting somewhere pitchside for photos as the game kicks off. Not tonight though, a nice, comfy seat in the stand beckoned for yours truly.

It doesn't half feel odd watching football like a regular punter and just enjoying the match. On a pretty chilly evening I was quite glad to be surrounded by other fans as I scoped out where exactly behind the perimeter hoardings the regular photographers had positioned themselves. On this occasion, my choice not to sit pitchside was governed by the opportunity to sit with a friend of mine, not just any old friend mind, this particular chap is good paid money to watch football. No, seriously, you read it correctly first time, in a choice of careers, only the beer tester at Stella Artois at Leuven in Belgium has more applicants than a full time football watcher. I'll try to explain.

Londoner Derek Bevan, 61, is a fantastic bloke, permanent Spanish resident and under contract to West Bromwich Albion FC from whom he takes a retainer plus expenses to suss out potential players The Baggies might want to snap up. His "work" involves visits to Second Division teams Elche, Hercules, Murcia, Levante, Albacete, Cartagena, and Segunda 'B' Granada. on a bit of a shite weekend he might also have to trot off to Valencia or Almeria, who, these days do the business in La Liga. The thing is you don't just luck into this kind of work, football people know football people, and without a hint of cronyism, (Bevan has also coached amateur football teams to a decent and successful standard), you catch a break. Ending up in non-league Norfolk soccer, Bevan became acquainted with Mark Bowen and Tony Spearing, themselves ending decent careers by the seaside. Bowen and Spearing were later to work for Blackburn Rovers under Welshman Mark Hughes, who quit the International scene after an excellent five odd years to take charge at the Lancashire side. Careers though never stand still, and, after Blackburn, Spearing successfully applied to WBA where, for the first time, a European scouting system was just being organised. Of course a scouting system needs someone to watch players, which is where Del Boy steps in. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now, where were we? Oh yeah, high in the stands watching Elche square off against Valencian rivals Levante. To be honest Elche were always going to have one of those seasons, awesome one week and awful the next. A change of coach two months into the season preceded a decent run of form that hoisted them clear of the relegation battle. Shortly after Christmas though the momentum stalled and mid-table mediocrity beckoned with a full five months of the campaign remaining. Levante really did not look like a side pushing hard to occupy one of the top three spots to guarantee promotion, prior to the game they sat handily placed in fourth position, how they managed that is a bit of a mystery because they showed very little all game long.
Featuring one of the oddest strike partnerships in the league, freaky tall Rafa Jorda and pint sized former Elche man Ruben, neither of whom did much to threaten the Elche goal, Levante finished rock bottom of La Liga two season ago, the kind of form they exhibited this evening.

Twenty minutes before the end, the ineffectual but still very popular Ruben left to a huge ovation from the local fans, five minutes later Derek and I headed for the car parks too, secure in the knowledge both teams could have carried on until Sunday and still not scored. Full time - Elche CF 0 - 0 Levante UD

PHOTO - Derek Bevan in his work gear.

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