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A LAND FIT FOR HEROES

by Rob Gutmann // 22 November 2012 // 44 Comments

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(or the further adventures of Martin Samuel, old right wingers, and a Uruguayan centre forward)

Good art however “immoral” is wholly a thing of virtue. Good art can NOT be immoral. By good art I mean art that bears true witness, I mean the art that is most precise.

- Ezra Pound

THE Daily Mail’s Chief Sports writer, the much decorated Martin Samuel, has long been viewed as something of a nemesis by hack-watching Liverpool supporters. He is a ready pantomime villain, who has a propensity to regularly oblige long held suspicions that he has no love for Merseyside, and reds in particular. He writes for the Daily Mail for a start. There’s no skirting round that. It is what it is, and what it has always been – an organ of the petty bourgeois right. The Mail is an unintelligent, bigoted tabloid that whilst not exactly advocating genocide against minorities, scarcely conceals its comfort with pandering to those that hanker for a return to a colourless English idyll of a non-existent bygone era.

It is truly a ridiculous newspaper. Its circulation in the millions demands that it be taken seriously though. We underestimate its power at our peril. Chief Sports writer, Martin Samuel, interestingly, isn’t a racist. Or, if he is, he hides it well. In the past 12 months he has taken up the cudgel against racial intolerance in and around English football. It is not a natural position for the majority of Mail journalists. Liberal causes, for these fellows, exist to be Clarksoned, not championed.

Martin Samuel, though, has come out swinging on this one. He may take the Mail’s schilling but he isn’t a shill to its right-wing Weltanschauung. Football threatened to disappear up its own arsehole an autumn ago, as it thoroughly misunderstood and mishandled grave issues surrounding racial tensions within the sport. Samuel was not slow to enter the fray as opinions clashed and collided from all directions and spectrums. Unfortunately, in striving desperately to adopt the correct position, he demonstrated a weak grasp on the key ethical and factual questions at hand.

He chose to readily damn Liverpool’s Luis Suarez (in an incredibly nuanced and complex dispute with Patrice Evra) based on the most fragile of evidence, whilst concurrently pleading for restraint and not falling prey to trial by media in the case of former England captain John Terry (when he faced charges of racially abusing Antoine Ferdinand). It was hard to escape a suspicion that bias and agenda were afoot. The foreign man in a foreign land, Luis Suarez, an easy bête noir and (counterpoint) to the implied nobility of the nation’s own John Terry.

In this wider context, Samuel’s Mail editorial of the 21st November of this year (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/article-2235979/Luis-Suarez-win-Footballer-The-Year-Award–Martin-Samuel.html ) is something of a fascinating companion piece to his series on Suarez, Terry and racism within the English game. It is a genuinely baffling set of contradictions that make Samuel the troubling enigma he seems determined to become.

The broadest synopsis of the article would be that Samuel contends that whilst Luis Suarez looks worthy of being a very serious candidate for footballer of the year that he has no chance of actually being  so honoured because the sins of his past. Samuels argues that perhaps this is something of a shame, and indicative of how football’s ‘artists’ are not cut the same slack as a great but flawed composer or poet might be. He cites celebrated literary giants and racists Ezra Pound and Phillip Larkin, as damaged men who are usually judged as distinct from their work.

The core theme of the piece is actually posing one of the loftiest and worthiest of questions. It is a magnificent thing for a Sports journalist to attempt or even go within poking distance of. Martin is all but channelling Hemingway. In the back pages of the Daily *fucking* Mail.

This, then, from Samuel, in that context. Breathe it in and celebrate life. It is a poppy growing in a Flanders field:

We separate the man from his art. But not in football. In football, we want it all.  Beauty and the blameless life. We can accept that poets, artists, musicians or writers can be despicable creatures redeemed by their work, but from our footballers we demand the exalted physicality of an athlete and the immaculate morality of an angel.

It is fantastic stuff. It is one of the great questions, second only to ‘what is the fucking point of anything, ever?’, or however the Existentialists tended to phrase that one. Can beauty exist in a vacuum distinct from its originator? Can a dope make a masterpiece? Can an evil bastard be author of a work of divine genius? ‘Can a work of art exist without context?’ –  is perhaps the widest angle view of this search for an eternal truth.

Fair fucks to Martin Samuel, Chief sports writer for the moronic Daily *fucking* Mail, for putting that in the faces of middle England, as they settle down to breakfast and their usual tabloid diet of paranoia and righteous indignation.  Philosophy and elegiac quotes from Ezra P and Larkin. Before he even mentions Suarez and footy he gives them this, from Mr Pound:

And the days are not full enough And the nights are not full enough And life slips by like a field mouse. Not shaking the grass

Bet they didn’t see that coming. We could stop here and be grateful for this mercy. However, despite his loftier musings, Martin still couldn’t quite but help himself. He had to go and re-assert his old prejudices where Liverpool’s Luis Suarez was concerned. If ever anyone, anywhere, has the need to explain the idiom ‘damning with faint praise’ then direct them to Martin Samuel’s November 21st 2012 piece on Suarez’s credentials for the footballer of the year award.

If Suarez’s English is not yet up to navigating the minefield of a Samuel’s diatribe, then pity the fool who tries to convey to him what is being intended therein. So lavish is Martin in his praise of Luis’s mastery of the footballing arts, that it would require the coldest of hearts not to warm to his theme. So prosaic is Marty in his comparing and contextualising Suarez’s plight with great poets that it is hard not to suspect a secret man-love for Liverpool’s Uruguayan super star.

Then you snap to. Awakened from the slumber of consent to Martin’s siren song.  The memories start to flood back. Luis Suarez. Ezra Pound. Nasty anti-Semite. Phillip Larkin, poet and small minded bigot. Luis Suarez – born of mixed race parentage in a truly multi-cultural society, has a reputation for getting the odd booking for diving on footy pitches.  Footballer who all know is not a racist, but was (flimsily) accused of committing a racist act. Also did a handball in the world cup.

The footballer bracketed with the closet neo-fascists then.  Not exactly birds of a fucking feather. Luis Suarez, Ezra Pound and Phillip Larkin. Sad thing is though, Samuel has probably tapped into the perception that best fits the broad view of Luis Suarez – the nasty, cheating, racist ‘foreigner’.  Samuel is actually championing Suarez, but within the ludicrously prejudiced context of Suarez as the devil incarnate. The irony meter is off the scale. Great job bringing philosophy and art to the Mail’s back pages, but no need to push metaphorical dog shit through Luis Suarez’s letterbox whilst doing it. It is shite that simply shouldn’t be sticking to Suarez with the tenacity the likes of Samuel are determined to make it do.

Suarez is a racist – except he isn’t. Even the FA’s unwise men could work that out. Suarez isn’t a de facto ‘cheat’ either.  Well, at the very least, no more or less of one than, let’s guess, 90% of his fellow professionals. Suarez’s ‘cheating’ is of a peculiar variety. It is the dark art of supposedly being too keen to fall when touched by an opponent on a football field. Of diving.  A bit. Of kidding the ref that you’ve been upended when you haven’t been. It’s like being an anti-Semite, like Ezra Pound, or a wife beater, like Ike Turner, according to Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail. Pretending another man has tripped you up in a football match is so similarly vile, that it has inspired Samuel to ponder the timeless question about art and context. He should have brought Wagner into it if he really wanted to raise this bar.

When old British football punditry talks of yesterday’s legends such as Tommy Smith and Johnny Giles,  it’ll get misty eyed at recollections of how Tom or John, when faced by impudent skill, would counter with a ‘thou shalt not pass’ threat and thunder into a potentially hospitalising challenge that would attempt to take man, ball or apocryphally  both.  That these lantern jawed heroes saw fair means or foul as legitimate tools of their trade is not an ethical issue for their acolytes.

If you can’t take the ball at least take the man. You can’t take the devil out of Rooney without losing the player. They don’t like it up ‘em. Nat Lofthouse. Andy Gray. Real men that would empty ball and goalkeeper over the line with them. Scholesy. What a player. Couldn’t tackle mind. What a lege. Shirt tugging, rugged centre halves that they don’t make like they used to.  Except they still do. Vinnie Jones. David Batty. Calling Le Saux a poof. Just to see what he did.

All our yesterdays. Epoch defining men. Era defining moments and memories. Lots of them about cheating. Except, when it’s British, and it tends to involve violence which you can’t call cheating. It’s manly. It’s testing. The Latins don’t get this. They cheat in feminine ways. They cheat with the head not the heart. With girly brain, not macho brawn. We don’t cheat, we dare to win. The foreigners express emotions, are unabashed about demonstrating that they are in pain. These are ways we cannot abide.

For Daily Mail middle England mentalists (or the Sky sports Soccer Saturday pundit panel as they are otherwise known) Suarez is one heaven sent archetype of a foreigner with low moral fibre. For fucks sake he even looks the part, with his whole, well, foreign demeanour. In the children’s pictorial dictionary of 1892 there’s a picture of Suarez alongside the word ‘foreigner’. If he didn’t exist it would be necessary to invent him – just when we thought all old boundaries had been blurred and that no old prejudices could apply, and that we had to accept that black men could actually match white men during the winter matches, and that Englishmen sometimes also feigned injury, enter Suarez, like a throwback to a golden age of foreign skulduggery.

Luis Suarez does take his job very seriously. He does approach his work tinged with the hint of insanity that seems often to spice genius. He does have the eyes of a man on the edge, and he will occasionally lose it and bite an opponent’s ear off (well, he did once). What he isn’t though is an anti-Semite, or a racist, or a wife beater, or a damaged human being with no moral compass. If anyone is minded to look he appears a good family person, a great team mate and a loyal, tolerant and strong willed human being. He is also a truly great footballer. An artist with the ball at his feet.  Potentially one of the greats of his age. On the later we and Samuel can probably agree to agree. The rest – the bullshit lazy assumptions and the ridiculous comparisons with great racists of yore – Martin Samuel and his employers at the Daily Mail can shove up their prejudice peddling shitters.

Finally, to answer the timeless question about art being able to be judged with or without the context of the artist’s deeds – here’s the answer – it depends on how much shit has gone down and how long ago it was. Jimmy Savile anyone?

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44 Comments

  1. ‘slow hand clap’ bravo, is wat ive bin sayin but well better put!

  2. Absolutely spot on. Great piece of work Rob.

  3. Got to marvel that samuels still gets paid, too high brow for most of his readers, yet still in the gutter with his aims, what an arsehole.

  4. A good read but your fascination with Martin Samuel is a bit creepy. The guy has views, opinions & can be controversial but thats why people read his articles & he is so respected in the newspaper sports writer community.

  5. i wasn’t expecting that.

  6. Great blog, well written. Still galls me, the double standards and hypocrisy in the Suarez/Evra and Terry/Ferdinand cases.

  7. That Samuel article is pure self-indulgence.

  8. Well said Rob, I commented on Samuels on RAWK about his article, pointing out that they asked the writers to name their favourites for player of the year. His opinion was not offered, except for the load of bilge he produced.
    Why he couldn’t just say ” Anyone but Suarez” is beyond me; or maybe he just suffers from verbal squirts. (” The dark stainof darkness that runs through his character” Give me strength!) The irony is blinding; this coming from a paper whose headlines scream about Johnny Foreigner coming to live high off the sweat of ordinary working people.
    You might have noticed that diving has been replaced by sneaky fouling in his list of crimes. The same fouls Scholes, Rooney and company are excused for being forward’s fouls. Fred West was a great angler, its just a pity about his other hobby…

  9. Superb Response Mr Gutmann. Any chance of persuading Mr Samuel on to the Wrap to justify himself. And if he does, dont let him off the hook like Oliver Holt !

  10. Superb article.

    Just a pity that everyone who saw the piece from Samuel isn’t forced to read and digest this one too.

    One point of order though. I am of an age where my mind might be playing tricks, but I am sure that Tommy Smith took the ball, man, referee, ball boy and anything else that got in the way when necessary. It is not apocryphal.

  11. When I moved to England, I thought this hatred of diving thing and the way divers were vilified were the marks of a healthy, well-functioning society. If you want things to work, you need to be able to trust that the person next to you will do the right thing and not try to fuck you over at every opportunity. And for that to happen, you need social opprobium if someone does try to violate that trust. That’s what I thought it was about. I compared that to the way things are back home in Uruguay, where the little cheat is an art form, and where nothing works properly. Everything is slow and expensive, because there always has to be someone controlling that people are not trying to take advantage. So I looked at this rabid anti-diving attitude, and thought “yes, this is where I want to live”.

    And then, with all this hysteria about Suarez, I realised what it was actually about. It’s not about trust, or any of that twaddle. It’s about expressing xenophobia in a socially acceptable way. Cheating is fine, as long as you do it the English way. And now, I’m suddenly not sure I want to live here any longer.

  12. Was a fan of Mr. Gutmann before I read this. Now I think he may very well be the Second Coming. Absolutely superb. Isn’t a crying shame that mainstream “journalists” can’t begin to even approach this level of cerebral writing.

  13. If Samuel is clinging to any sort of hope that this will derail Suarez, then he’s a fool. The criticism seems to spur him on; a viewpoint discussed on your last (excellent) podcast on Monday. These media outlets prey on Liverpool fans due to their fierce defence of their team. (A trait which inspires envy outside of Anfield). They know that we will respond. The Daily Mail and the likes of TalkSport are experts at winding us up. Deny them the oxygen of publicity that they crave and the circulation/listening figures that their bosses demand.

  14. Erudite and articulate. Good article.

    Jaba the Hut aka Samuels, shows though through the pseudo intellectual pontifications his true stance when he says in his article…..

    “An unrepentant horror as an example to the next generation, it would be fiendishly hard to justify his glorification, almost inexcusable. Yet is he the best player in the league? This minute, by a mile.”

    His article is full of spite, bile and poison, hiding behind the “Suarez is a good footballer” , it’s another hatchet job that he and his ilk do best.

    I’m sure as he sits down for multiple bagels on Sky’s Sunday supplement he’ll be basking in the praise of his fellow hacks as they look down from their lofty towers on the football masses, especially those myopic scousers with a chip on their shoulder.

    They’ll never admit to their contradictions and inconsistencies, it’s important though I feel, that they should not be ignored, but they should have them rammed down their throats by articles like this

    Owen S

  15. Really hope this fat fuck isn’t allowed near Anfield again. Come on ayre, get off your Harley and ban this cunt and his rag.

  16. Rob.

    Life. It’s too short. Just call him a c**t and ignore him.

  17. Absolutely superb Rob, if I may say… & without a mention of Cantona, another brilliant footballer but with a criminal record

  18. Wonderfully argued, Rob, but since when was Jimmy Savile an artist?

  19. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

    Can someone please attached this to a lump hammer and smash Martin Samuel in the face with it (metaphorically speaking, obviously).

  20. One mans freedom fighter is another mans terrorist

    And we all know which side the freedom fighters is on

    The British?

    Naturally

    That Suarez may be the best player in the premiership but
    he will never win any award looking foreign, you need to be
    British and have a Bulldog Spirit like Terry and Rooney, oh and
    you must also be able to banter, never forget, a racist comment
    is only racist if its said by foreigner, everything else is banter

  21. A fantastic piece of writing (by Rob…not Martin !)

  22. Brilliant brilliant brilliant

  23. One of the best retorical pieces I have had the pleasure of reading for a long time. Samuels and his covert praise of the racist Suarez would be lost on many.
    My Mother used to say if you have not got anything nice to say about someone, then say nothing, my mother would kick lumps out of Samuels fat arse.
    Its funny how the biggest bigots see it in themselves to save the World from racists, whilst remaining unaware of thier own inadequate endeavors as they stumble,stagger & bungle along trying to corroborate to the uneducated that in some way they are a trustworthy source for the white middle class -
    Self-importance becomes an undercurrent in almost everything that Samuels writes & even more so in his spoken word, like an awful lot of his fellow illustrious and somewhat eminent, definately celebrated Sunday Supplement Sky shower, their interest is reflective of what they see whilst cuuting stubble from chins, or straightening their hair with Alice-bands.

    Great piece.

    Chris

  24. Thank you Rob for putting onto paper so brilliantly what all of us Reds are thinking. Great read.

  25. Outstanding writing Rob

    It’s correct to mention that the Samuels piece could have been a genuinely brilliant piece of writing. The crying shame is that the whole article becomes null & void thanks to the preposterous likening of Suarez saying the word negg-ro in his native dialect on a football pitch to a holocaust defender and confessed antisemite.

    It’s this that makes you think deeply about personal prejudice and editorial bias.

    The final Samuels piece simply becomes a case of writing for your audience, a natural extension of editorial support for fascism in the 1930′s to the present day. The question I’d like to know the answer to is, if Samuels was writing this for say, The Independent, would the final article have been the same?

  26. JT for footballer of the year then?

  27. Enjoyed that, Rob. It’s always fun to read eloquent indignance and Fat Boy Samuel is eminently worthy of as much lampooning as possible.

  28. If the honorable Mr. Samuel has decided this is how he shall feed his children, so be it. His article really has nothing to do about Suarez – it is but a true reflection of his own self.

    Well done Rob Gutmann.

  29. “but from our footballers we demand the exalted physicality of an athlete and the immaculate morality of an angel” So where does that leave past sports personality of the year Ryan Giggs

  30. Great piece by the way

  31. Wow! A great big kudos to you Sir!

    Just make sure he reads this.

  32. Superb stuff Rob. Engaging, funny and true.

    Samuel is using a classic ‘guilt by association’ tactic here-insinuating that Suarez’s actions place him on the same level with Nazi-sympathisers and holocaust deniers.

    As you say, it’s actually a well-written (if a little dressed-up) article but it’s bias-and Samuel’s obvious pandering to the publication in which it appears-is deeply worrying.

    Or as Samuel himself would put it: ‘disturbing evidence of a darker, insidious side to the output of this troubled, damaged artist.’

  33. “Dark streak”?
    “darker, insidious side”?

    Dark’s bad, right Mr Samuel?
    I do hope I’ve got that right…

  34. I fucking hate Martin Samuel. I love Rob Guttman. Great article Rob. Besides the whole racist angle, you have to love the sheer temerity of Samuel to argue that Suarez’s diving also goes against him in an article approximately one inch higher than a plea for Fergie to buy back ‘our’ Ronaldo!

  35. Absolutely wonderful, Rob. A perfect response.

  36. It strikes me that most journalists are lazy bastards!Present company excepted.

    Do you not wonder how every day they almost always have the same agenda?

    It’s as though some Press Office somewhere feeds them stories and all they have to to do is rewrite them in their own words.It’s as though some big P.R. Organisation is deciding what should be written and who it should be written about.

    Just go on-line.Look at all of them.The same sh**e every day.And when they get somebody in their sites it becomes a never ending crusade.

    Just check it out.Do they all wake up with the same idea for a story every day?What an amazing coincidence that would be!

    Unless somebody somewhere is pulling their strings!

  37. A very good read

  38. I was half way through reading MS article and realised I was wasting my fucking life reading a pile of shite, so I clicked off and and found something more interesting to read, I think I settled on the instructions on a box of Imodium!

    Great article Rob but stop wasting your life reading his drivel.

  39. This is a fantastic bit of writing, Rob. Don’t know how I initially missed it! I get the impression that LS is a really nice guy off the field, (friendship, loyalty and family are high on his list of important values) but he…. errrr…does like to win on it, and that’s fine by me. He certainly seems to outhink 90% of the opposition, a lot of which are homegrown. Maybe that’s the problem; he makes too many people look like mugs, and we can’t have our ‘funny foreigner’ friends doing that, can we?

  40. Leaving a comment on such a master piece makes me second guess my every other word so I’ll go with no comment outside of my introduction..

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