Adam Drew is head of recruitment at Concord Rangers. He previously worked with Jody Brown at Heybridge Swifts in 2017-18 where they reached the FA Cup first round, FA Trophy second round and the Isthmian North play-offs. He then built a team for Julian Dicks that won the play-offs and joined Concord Rangers with Sammy Moore as they finished in the play-offs.
This season, under new boss Danny Scopes, National League South Concord reached the FA Trophy semi-finals.
Here, Drew explains the intricacies of player recruitment and scouting in Non-League…
NLP: Every summer we see clubs having to rebuild squads, sometimes completely from scratch. How difficult is that?
Adam Drew: It’s something I’ve done at both Heybridge and Concord under different remits. The first time at Heybridge, with Jody Brown, we said, ‘What is stopping us from winning the league if we get our player recruitment right?’. At that time, maybe not now, the budgets were all quite similar. We wanted to recruit experienced boys who had done it at the level, who we knew.
The remit at Concord this season was different: it was trying to stay up and get the DNA back into the club. For us, it was about young, hungry lads with the right mentality, teamwork, attitude.
Obviously, you want a good player too but those are the sort of specifics we look at. And it’s all dependent on positions and the way we play.
We had one player and no management team last summer. I had a list of Isthmian North and Premier boys who I thought could step up. When recruiting that many, I thought it was important to sign players I knew, we don’t have the money to go out and spend big. Thankfully, the gaffer and I were on the same page so it worked well.
NLP: What is the process of rebuilding a squad?
AD: I put a list together, 20 full-backs, 20 centre-halves etc. We put down our perfect 11 and then get each position to three or four names.
We start from the goalkeeper upwards, speak to every player, get a feel for them, what they’re after, what they want from football – that’s the first question I ask. We took a few extra because we knew we weren’t going to get them all right, in pre-season we probably had 22/23 players and it was a case of closing that down to 16.
The summer was full-on. I think my missus thought I was having an affair because I was out every night!
If you look at our squad from the start of the season to now, we’ve still got 13 which is pretty good going.
NLP: It must have been a bit of a worry signing a lot of players from a lower level?
AD: A lot of teams, at all levels, sign the same old boys who have been around. If you’re on £400, £500-a-week, semi-pro and got a full-time job, how hungry are you for that team to win the league? From National South your next step up is full-time football in the National League. Are you going to quit your job to earn another £100 in the National League? I’m not sure you are. It was a case of let’s sign some hungry boys and see what happens.
People were saying, ‘you’re mad the people you’re signing, you’re going to get relegated’. We lost 5-0 to Bowers in pre-season and, don’t get me wrong, I was a bit worried!
NLP: How important is the trust between you and the manager?
AD: Jody was always very good to me. If I threw a player at him he would say, ‘Will he win me the league?’. That was the first thing he’d say. I’d doubt myself but he’d never shoot you down. He would watch the player or he probably knew him anyway.
Scopesy gives me more or less free rein. He lets me get on with it, I do all the financial deals with the players. He really trusts me and I trust him. If he didn’t, there would probably not be much point in me being there. He will always have the final say though and, thankfully, nine times out of ten he agrees.
NLP: Because opinions on players can vary…
AD: It’s very much a team effort as well. Lee Minshull, the assistant manager, and coaches may have seen a player and they’re not having them or I’m not having a player they’ve seen. We sit down, discuss it between us and if we don’t think it’s right between us all, we don’t go for them. It’s also really useful when someone, like Lee, has played against a potential target.
There’s only so many games I can watch so I put an advert out on Twitter to give people the opportunity to scout for us. Within 24 hours I had 120 applicants, including people from America! We took four on, two of them did opposition analysis, one was in Bath and did the scouting over that way. Two of them got moves higher up after being with us for three months. That was really pleasing.
NLP: What about the loan market from the Football League?
AD: I get to as many local games and U23 games as I can. Relationships are so important. People will ring you about players and that’s good.
We use the loan market well. We’ve built some good reputations so full-time clubs trust us. We took Tom Clifford on loan from Southend, he wasn’t getting a look-in there and went back and played every game and has got another pro deal.
We had Scott High, from Huddersfield, this season and when he went back he got into the first team squad. Not every team can win the league, not every team can win the play-offs but for us if you can see players progress we think that’s massive.
NLP: How frustrating is it to miss out on one of your top targets to another club and, equally, not spotting a gem who is picked up by someone else?
AD: We lost three players to one club two leagues lower than us this season, that’s really frustrating. We tried to re-sign Liam Nash and thought he was coming back, but then he signed for Dartford.
When you lose a player to a club lower down, it’s a real kick in the teeth but also probably makes you think we got away with one. You’re only signing lower for money and that’s not the type of player we want.
When you try and persuade someone to come in and they say yes, it’s a proper buzz. Missing a player is something I think about all the time. I’ve supported Southend all my life and I look at them and the players around Essex they’ve missed out on over the years and I’m ashamed for them really.
NLP: Is opposition scouting a big part of the club’s preparation before a game?
AD: It’s a huge part. It’s probably what Scopesy prides himself on, it’s one of his big plusses. He will know absolutely everything on the opposition. We watch videos and we’ve got two opposition scouts. The gaffer took on a guy from the youth at Concord called Scott Wagstaff and he has been instrumental in that area along with the two we took on.
You can see how the gaffer has been in and around the Cowleys because I know their attention to detail is second to none and that’s pretty similar to how we are. Because we don’t have the biggest budget in the league we have to work as hard as we can and he does that brilliantly.
NLP: How can people become a scout?
AD: If you’ve done scouting courses or are interested, then email your local club. Do some player reports and send them, these clubs are crying out for people to help.
PICTURE: Paul Raffety