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History

Shooting skills

Sefton Samuels looks back on a career spent photographing some of the biggest names in European football – up north

WORDS Dan Poole | INTERVIEW Seb Powell

“She never used it. And when she did, she used to chop people’s heads off.” Sefton Samuels is talking about his sister here, but fortunately not in the context of her having been a reluctant executioner. Rather, the man who was once described by The Guardian as “the photographic equivalent of Ken Loach” is explaining that he borrowed her camera to take his first snaps – and thus a career was born.

Now aged 90, Samuels has spent a fruitful lifetime documenting football in all its guises across the north of England. It started when he was a child in the 1940s: he used to cycle to watch Manchester City at Maine Road, pay 2p to leave his bike in someone’s garden and get into the stadium for 6p – having snuck his camera in too, of course.

Now a selection of his work, covering the 1960s to the 1980s, is being exhibited at the National Football Museum in his hometown of Manchester, where it will be on show until the end of the year. One notable image is a picture of legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly – though, as Samuels explains, it wasn’t the easiest portrait to come by.

Sefton Samuels' portraits of Sir Matt Busby (top), Bill Shankly (left) and George Best (top right)

“Initially I went to Anfield and got in under the stands,” he says. “I spotted Shanks in his little office so I wandered over, thinking, ‘I’m just going to ask him.’ And, well, he frightened the life out of me. He barked at me and shouted, ‘What the hell are you doing – get out of here!’ So I had to make a hasty exit.

“Then one day Liverpool were invited to play Wrexham after Shankly retired, and he was at the match. I was taking some pictures during the first half and then half-time came, so I headed off hoping to get a cup of tea – and Shanks appeared. Now he was retired and relaxed, so I asked him again: ‘Would you mind if I took a couple of photographs?’ And he said, ‘No, that’s fine,’ so I just grabbed a few shots – three of them.

“It wasn’t arranged, it was just coincidental. I didn't know what was behind him or anything like that. You just have to grab it while you can with people like that and hope that it’ll come out OK. There was no time to think.”

Not all of Samuels’ subjects were quite so challenging, however. “One of the nicest guys I’ve photographed is Trevor Francis,” he says of the man who scored the winner for Nottingham Forest in the 1979 European Cup final. “He was an educated bloke. He’d been to grammar school, he was very civilised.”

It wasn't arranged, it was just coincidental. You just have to grab it while you can with people like that and hope it'll come out ok. there was no time to think.

He speaks highly of Sir Matt Busby too, Shankly’s rival at Manchester United. “They were completely different people altogether. Shanks was always going at full speed whereas Busby was very relaxed, sort of gentle in his way. Not as aggressive as Shanks was in those days anyway.”

Samuels also took an unexpected opportunity to photograph Busby’s most famous prodigy. “I was very lucky when I came across George Best. I had a little office in town with my accountant, opposite his boutique. It was a nice spring day and he was leaning against the door; some of the local kids were asking for autographs. Luckily I’d got my camera in my study so I grabbed it, went over and asked if he’d mind if I took some photographs. He said it was fine; he was very pleasant and helpful. He was enjoying a good period in his life when everything was going very well for him.”

One thing that hasn’t gone so well for Samuels, however, is trying to get some time with a certain Spaniard. “One I haven’t managed to get so far is Pep Guardiola; I’ve sort of given up at the moment. I’ve thought that maybe I should get Jürgen Klopp instead, but I haven’t got around to writing to him just yet. I have to get my wife to drive me around these days so she’d have to take me – but she’s a Scouser anyway, so she shouldn’t object too much.”

When Football was Football: The Photography of Sefton Samuels, 1960s-1980s is showing at the National Football Museum in Manchester until 31 December

“She never used it. And when she did, she used to chop people’s heads off.” Sefton Samuels is talking about his sister here, but fortunately not in the context of her having been a reluctant executioner. Rather, the man who was once described by The Guardian as “the photographic equivalent of Ken Loach” is explaining that he borrowed her camera to take his first snaps – and thus a career was born.

Now aged 90, Samuels has spent a fruitful lifetime documenting football in all its guises across the north of England. It started when he was a child in the 1940s: he used to cycle to watch Manchester City at Maine Road, pay 2p to leave his bike in someone’s garden and get into the stadium for 6p – having snuck his camera in too, of course.

Now a selection of his work, covering the 1960s to the 1980s, is being exhibited at the National Football Museum in his hometown of Manchester, where it will be on show until the end of the year. One notable image is a picture of legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly – though, as Samuels explains, it wasn’t the easiest portrait to come by.

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Sefton Samuels' portraits of Sir Matt Busby (top), Bill Shankly (left) and George Best (top right)

“Initially I went to Anfield and got in under the stands,” he says. “I spotted Shanks in his little office so I wandered over, thinking, ‘I’m just going to ask him.’ And, well, he frightened the life out of me. He barked at me and shouted, ‘What the hell are you doing – get out of here!’ So I had to make a hasty exit.

“Then one day Liverpool were invited to play Wrexham after Shankly retired, and he was at the match. I was taking some pictures during the first half and then half-time came, so I headed off hoping to get a cup of tea – and Shanks appeared. Now he was retired and relaxed, so I asked him again: ‘Would you mind if I took a couple of photographs?’ And he said, ‘No, that’s fine,’ so I just grabbed a few shots – three of them.

“It wasn’t arranged, it was just coincidental. I didn't know what was behind him or anything like that. You just have to grab it while you can with people like that and hope that it’ll come out OK. There was no time to think.”

Not all of Samuels’ subjects were quite so challenging, however. “One of the nicest guys I’ve photographed is Trevor Francis,” he says of the man who scored the winner for Nottingham Forest in the 1979 European Cup final. “He was an educated bloke. He’d been to grammar school, he was very civilised.”

It wasn't arranged, it was just coincidental. You just have to grab it while you can with people like that and hope it'll come out ok. there was no time to think.

He speaks highly of Sir Matt Busby too, Shankly’s rival at Manchester United. “They were completely different people altogether. Shanks was always going at full speed whereas Busby was very relaxed, sort of gentle in his way. Not as aggressive as Shanks was in those days anyway.”

Samuels also took an unexpected opportunity to photograph Busby’s most famous prodigy. “I was very lucky when I came across George Best. I had a little office in town with my accountant, opposite his boutique. It was a nice spring day and he was leaning against the door; some of the local kids were asking for autographs. Luckily I’d got my camera in my study so I grabbed it, went over and asked if he’d mind if I took some photographs. He said it was fine; he was very pleasant and helpful. He was enjoying a good period in his life when everything was going very well for him.”

One thing that hasn’t gone so well for Samuels, however, is trying to get some time with a certain Spaniard. “One I haven’t managed to get so far is Pep Guardiola; I’ve sort of given up at the moment. I’ve thought that maybe I should get Jürgen Klopp instead, but I haven’t got around to writing to him just yet. I have to get my wife to drive me around these days so she’d have to take me – but she’s a Scouser anyway, so she shouldn’t object too much.”

When Football was Football: The Photography of Sefton Samuels, 1960s-1980s is showing at the National Football Museum in Manchester until 31 December

“She never used it. And when she did, she used to chop people’s heads off.” Sefton Samuels is talking about his sister here, but fortunately not in the context of her having been a reluctant executioner. Rather, the man who was once described by The Guardian as “the photographic equivalent of Ken Loach” is explaining that he borrowed her camera to take his first snaps – and thus a career was born.

Now aged 90, Samuels has spent a fruitful lifetime documenting football in all its guises across the north of England. It started when he was a child in the 1940s: he used to cycle to watch Manchester City at Maine Road, pay 2p to leave his bike in someone’s garden and get into the stadium for 6p – having snuck his camera in too, of course.

Now a selection of his work, covering the 1960s to the 1980s, is being exhibited at the National Football Museum in his hometown of Manchester, where it will be on show until the end of the year. One notable image is a picture of legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly – though, as Samuels explains, it wasn’t the easiest portrait to come by.

Sefton Samuels' portraits of Sir Matt Busby (top), Bill Shankly (left) and George Best (top right)

“Initially I went to Anfield and got in under the stands,” he says. “I spotted Shanks in his little office so I wandered over, thinking, ‘I’m just going to ask him.’ And, well, he frightened the life out of me. He barked at me and shouted, ‘What the hell are you doing – get out of here!’ So I had to make a hasty exit.

“Then one day Liverpool were invited to play Wrexham after Shankly retired, and he was at the match. I was taking some pictures during the first half and then half-time came, so I headed off hoping to get a cup of tea – and Shanks appeared. Now he was retired and relaxed, so I asked him again: ‘Would you mind if I took a couple of photographs?’ And he said, ‘No, that’s fine,’ so I just grabbed a few shots – three of them.

“It wasn’t arranged, it was just coincidental. I didn't know what was behind him or anything like that. You just have to grab it while you can with people like that and hope that it’ll come out OK. There was no time to think.”

Not all of Samuels’ subjects were quite so challenging, however. “One of the nicest guys I’ve photographed is Trevor Francis,” he says of the man who scored the winner for Nottingham Forest in the 1979 European Cup final. “He was an educated bloke. He’d been to grammar school, he was very civilised.”

It wasn't arranged, it was just coincidental. You just have to grab it while you can with people like that and hope it'll come out ok. there was no time to think.

He speaks highly of Sir Matt Busby too, Shankly’s rival at Manchester United. “They were completely different people altogether. Shanks was always going at full speed whereas Busby was very relaxed, sort of gentle in his way. Not as aggressive as Shanks was in those days anyway.”

Samuels also took an unexpected opportunity to photograph Busby’s most famous prodigy. “I was very lucky when I came across George Best. I had a little office in town with my accountant, opposite his boutique. It was a nice spring day and he was leaning against the door; some of the local kids were asking for autographs. Luckily I’d got my camera in my study so I grabbed it, went over and asked if he’d mind if I took some photographs. He said it was fine; he was very pleasant and helpful. He was enjoying a good period in his life when everything was going very well for him.”

One thing that hasn’t gone so well for Samuels, however, is trying to get some time with a certain Spaniard. “One I haven’t managed to get so far is Pep Guardiola; I’ve sort of given up at the moment. I’ve thought that maybe I should get Jürgen Klopp instead, but I haven’t got around to writing to him just yet. I have to get my wife to drive me around these days so she’d have to take me – but she’s a Scouser anyway, so she shouldn’t object too much.”

When Football was Football: The Photography of Sefton Samuels, 1960s-1980s is showing at the National Football Museum in Manchester until 31 December

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