(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?