He would go to watch them and sit in the stand with the paper on his lap, and for 90 minutes he would simply draw lines across the page following the route of the ball when that team had possession. By the end of the game the sheet was a squiggly mess of ink, but it told Stein all he needed to know.
Some "routes" – perhaps from the left central defender to the right central midfielder, or diagonally from the right-back across the pitch – would be far more heavily lined than others. Stein suddenly had all the information he needed to see how that team liked to build its moves. Technology has advanced and Gordon Strachan will not have resorted to such primitive methods ahead of his first competitive game as Scotland manager. But the principle remains unchanged. Strachan will know how Wales like to play, and specifically how they tend to work the ball to Gareth Bale.
Strachan has been in this territory before. In November, 2006, he had a defence of Paul Telfer, Bobo Balde, Stephen McManus and Lee Naylor to deal with Cristiano Ronaldo in a Champions League game for Celtic against Manchester United. There was Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha and Ryan Giggs to contend with, too, but Celtic kept a clean sheet. Shunsuke Nakamura's late goal from a free-kick even gave them a winner. Three months later, AC Milan and Kaka came to town and Strachan – this time with McManus, Naylor, Mark Wilson and Darren O'Dea along the back – delivered another clean sheet for Celtic in a goalless draw.
Any Scottish resignation over Bale being seemingly unplayable may also be tempered by the recollection that, in 2007, a Rangers defence of Alan Hutton, Davie Weir, Carlos Cuellar and Sasa Papac – and with current Scotland midfielder Charlie Adam in front of them – kept an Ibrox clean sheet against an absurdly talented Barcelona team including Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. Walter Smith was the manager then, as he was when Scotland beat France in 2006. Smith had a back five of Christian Dailly, Gary Caldwell, Steven Pressley, Weir and Graham Alexander and it held firm against Henry, David Trezeguet, Florent Malouda and Franck Ribery. When Alex McLeish was in charge of the national team, Hutton, Weir, McManus and Alexander kept out Trezeguet, Malouda, Ribery and Nicolas Anelka in Paris.
So it can be done, despite Bale's terrifying speed, power and stamina, despite the variety and range of his finishing, despite his three goals in five Wales games this season, despite his 25 overall in 42 appearances for club and country. Assistant manager Mark McGhee alluded to the Scotland management team having an idea of how Bale might be stopped – beyond praying that the ankle injury which kept him out of training yesterday gets even worse – but inevitably he did not divulge it. Strachan will also keep it to himself when he does his own media interviews on Thursday.
When Scotland played Wales in October, in what turned out to be Craig Levein's penultimate game, the idea was for left-back Danny Fox to deal with Bale with the help of Shaun Maloney on the left side of midfield. The task was beyond them. The pace and strength of the 23-year-old's running eventually blasted holes in Scotland. He drifted past Adam, then ran in behind Maloney and cut across him, inviting the contact which sent him sprawling to the ground for a penalty, which he then scored.
His second goal in their 2-1 win was wonderfully executed, a soaring left-foot shot which flew across Allan McGregor and into his top left-hand corner. But Adam was at fault again, simply jogging alongside him when Bale took possession and began to motor from the centre circle towards the Scotland penalty area. By the time the penny dropped, and Adam sensed danger, it was too late: Bale was within shooting range.
Doubtless Adam would prefer to forget all about what happened that night in Cardiff but those episodes remain hugely instructive. Bale had been contained for 80 minutes and, had Steven Fletcher not had a "goal" disallowed because an assistant referee wrongly thought the cross to him and gone out of play, Scotland would have had a 2-0 lead after James Morrison's first-half opener.
Players in an international squad should really not need telling, but Strachan will surely hammer the message home anyway: "Look what can happen, switch off for two seconds and Bale will be in." Wales are average opposition albeit with a sprinkling of real talent in Craig Bellamy, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey, who was only 18 when he ran the show in a 3-0 Welsh defeat of George Burley's Scotland in a 2009 friendly. But Bale is world class, and that means he is world class from the first minute until the moment he leaves the field. When a player that dangerous is in the other team the menace remains however tired or self-satisfied players might feel after managing to repel him until, say, the last 10 minutes.
Bale's ability to play from either side or through the middle makes him particularly mesmerising and elusive, but it should not come as a surprise if one cornerstone of Strachan's plan for dealing with him is an attempt to close down and harass those Welsh players who tend to give him the most passes. It isn't rocket science, but it's sensible.
When Strachan reflects on how his Celtic teams denied Manchester United and AC Milan at Parkhead, how Smith held out against Barcelona and France, and how McLeish also denied the French, he will recognise one common factor other than those sides riding their luck: every one of them ran and worked and grafted right to the final whistle. There's no point any manager formulating a game plan if the players do not adhere to it for the entire game.
That was evident in Cardiff. Scotland went toe-to-toe with Bale in October, but they couldn't last the distance.