Long-serving scout Colin Watts is Youth Development Officer in Norwich City's Academy. July will mark 25 years of service from Colin to the Club.NCFC: Hi Colin, thanks for talking to us. First of all could you please give us an overview of your role at the Club?
My main role covers the recruitment and identification of young players in the local area. I also monitor the progress of trialists and current players in training and in matches.
Scouting is on a Saturday and Sunday plus midweek games and summer tournaments, which are a real key recruitment time for us. I also go abroad to watch national tournaments; this year I went to Sweden with Ben Strang (Academy Head of Recruitment) to watch the Nordic Cup to see international Under-17s players.
NCFC: How has your job developed since you’ve been working at Colney?
I was brought in by Gordon Bennett and was given the chance to work full-time at the Club in 1993 under Mike Walker, and that was a great time to join because we were playing in Europe at the time.
I joined as his assistant and at the time, there were three of us in charge of the Under-14s, Under-15s and Under-16s, who were Mike Sutton, Sammy Morgan and myself. Over the years, I’ve had various duties – in 1996 I was in charge of the youth department at a difficult time when we didn’t have any money to invest in scouts or anything.
In 1998, we were able to appoint Sammy as our first Academy Director, and the roles got spread around.
Now we have an Academy staff of about 25, so things have changed over my time!
NCFC: What’s the trick to spotting potential in a player at such a young age – you seem to have a good eye for goalkeepers in particular?
I must say goalkeepers have been my speciality! I’ve been lucky enough to have found a number of ‘keepers, going back to Robert Green when he was an Under-13. We saw him in the Canary Cup which was a competition in Great Yarmouth.
Joe Lewis was the second one, and then Declan Rudd and Jed Steer came in before Angus Gunn and Aston Oxborough. I mention those lads because they have all played internationally for England.
I will say that there’s maybe a little bit of luck involved too! I don’t have a special talent for spotting goalkeepers, although the record might indicate that I do.
NCFC: Is it true that Declan was an outfield player when you first brought him in?
With Declan, he came in as an outfield player with his friend called John Abbott. John was signed but Declan didn't have as much potential as an outfield player. He came in later on and we used him as a goalkeeper; he’d flown around in training in goal and he’d done it very well.
Eventually he got taken on as a goalkeeper. Jed Steer was also an outfield player, he played outfield for his school. We saw him at a tournament – again, there was a little bit of luck. I walked past the pitch he was playing on and the first time he wasn’t playing in goal, but then the next time he was. I was just in the right place at the right time.
Four of those lads all played cricket, and the hand-eye coordination they had learned from that helped them. You have to be a bit of a different character to play in goal as well, they are a different breed.
NCFC: Our current crop of young scholars are enjoying a good run in this year’s FA Youth Cup - what does the competition mean to you?
A number of years back I played for Norwich City. I was in the youth set-up from the age of 15 to when I was 18, and I remember playing in the competition at Highbury against Arsenal.
We lost 5-0, and Norwich had one player called Colin Worrell who was the only professional to come out of that team, but Arsenal had a group of them including Bobby Gould, George Armstrong and Peter Simpson.
In the present day, we all look forward to the draw, which is usually in November. We get a bye through the first few rounds because of our record, and then we wait with eagerness to see where we’re going. 400 teams enter the FA Youth Cup, so when you reach the latter stages it is a fantastic achievement.
NCFC: What are your best memories from the FA Youth Cup?
I remember Dave Stringer’s team from 1983 and of course the magnificent achievement of winning it in 2013.
The particularly pleasing thing about that year was that it was Chelsea over two legs, and also for me because eight of the boys in the squad for the final were either boys I’d signed for the Club or they had been introduced by me. I felt very proud.
NCFC: What involvement have you had with the recruitment and development and this year’s Under-18s group?
Four of five of them are local boys who have been here since the age of nine, which is absolutely fantastic. To see them stepping out at Carrow Road is a special feeling for me.
I don’t usually like to pick out key players, but they have already been identified. Todd Cantwell is one – he’s been connected with us since he was eight, although he didn’t sign his Academy forms until he was ten.
He’s turned out to be a pretty special talent. All teams need a player who’s capable of doing something special, and Todd is a key player for them.
NCFC: It must give you immense pride when you see players come through and go on to play for the first-team?
Yes of course. Jason Shackell was one of my key ones, only because he was identified at a late age.
Usually we have boys in ages eight or nine and they go through the system, but with Jason I went down to see a match in Bishop’s Stortford, and I was tipped off by a school teacher who said that he had a group of five players to look at.
I did, and the funny thing about it was that Jason wasn’t one of the five that he identified, but in that game I saw this big, tall defender who won everything in the air and had a bit of pace.
He was also left-footed, and left-footed central defenders – even these days – are rare. He came in as an Under-15 and the rest is history.
I’m very fortunate to have been able to play a role in the careers of these players and to have been paid to essentially watch football. I’m very lucky.