Renowned Manchester photographer, Sefton Samuels has come out of retirement – again – for his latest exhibition at the National Football Museum in Manchester.
Sefton, now in his 91st year, has photographed many high-profile football figures during his professional career and a selection of these are on show in his latest exhibition entitled “WHEN FOOTBALL WAS FOOTBALL: THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF SEFTON SAMUELS, 1960S-1980S”, which runs from September 24, to December 31, 2021.
Our editor Bob Alston was fortunate to meet with Sefton on the ‘press day’ of his exhibition.
Sefton told Bob: “I really didn’t think I would see this day, even though I still believed I had just one more exhibition in me! The museum has done a fantastic job of displaying my images.”
Sefton is no stranger to exhibiting his work having previously put on over 30 such events in the past, but this one means so much more to him.
He said: “I have been a loyal Manchester City supporter all my life and I started taking photographs at their matches when I was just a lad. I used to cycle to Maine Road, pay 2p to leave my bike in someone’s garden, and get into the ground for 6p, sneaking my camera in with me as well! I’ve always wanted to have my own exhibition on the subject of football and now I have – it’s a very special day.
“Following on from photographing at City matches I got the opportunity to photograph the players and managers from City, United and other top teams too – something I just couldn’t turn down. I now have a collection that includes iconic players and managers including George Best, Joe Mercer, Matt Busby, Brian Clough, Denis Law, Alex Ferguson, and Bill Shankly.
“Without doubt, my most printed footballing photographs are those of George Best (unfortunately not a City player), which have been used many times in local and national publications, as well as in my book, ‘Northerners: portrait of a no-nonsense people’.
“I had popped out for a spot of lunch in Manchester and as I walked near Bridge Street, I saw George in the doorway of his ‘Edwardia’ boutique and I did nothing more than ask him would I be able to take some photos of him. I must admit I was quite shocked when he said yes! I took around a dozen shots, politely said thanks, and left. He was a real gentleman.”
Sefton has many stories to tell of how he got access to the people he photographed and he openly admits that he was taking photographs in an era when things were very different from today.
He said: “I was fortunate to be able to get near to these icons of football and if I was doing it today I wouldn’t get anywhere near them for security guards or ‘minders’. Also, a lot of the top clubs have their own media teams now, so no need to use freelance photographers.”
Sefton added: “Getting access was fairly straightforward, as I used to work freelance for the BBC, so that opened the door for me. The first photograph I took for the ‘Beeb’ was not of just one person, but the whole team – Manchester United. I followed this with individual player and manager shots.
“It wasn’t all plain-sailing though and the person that was the most difficult to photograph was the Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty, he was quite impatient and just wanted to get it over with, so I obliged and didn’t hang around chatting. All the rest were great though and very willing to chat with me.
“I always tried to break the ice by chatting to my subject, before I even get my camera out. I find it helps to get a more natural shot.
“Being a City fan, and without any bias, the most friendly, likeable person I photographed was City manager Joe Mercer. He was both courteous and polite, as well as being very funny, he had a great sense of humour.
“Other people like Brian Clough, Bill Shankly and Matt Busby took a while to set up. I would telephone and write numerous times before they agreed to be photographed, but I got some great shots in the end. Alex Ferguson was another one, it took me 5 years to pin him down for a photograph, I really don’t know why, but he kept giving me the run-around!”
Sefton said there was one person who he really wanted to photograph and is yet to.
He said: “Yes, without doubt, Josep “Pep” Guardiola, the current City manager. I have tried and tried to get access to photograph him, but never got a response to my many requests. I even had a letter translated into Spanish to see if that would work, but I didn’t realise he was from Catalonia, so I guess he must have been insulted!”
Sefton’s theory is that since the club was taken over by a consortium that includes Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family, City has closed the door on any publicity from unofficial channels. He said: “It’s all about money now!”
Prior to the exhibition, the museum staff visited Sefton at home to record a separate interview with him, which was being played on a large screen in the exhibition hall.
Sefton’s exhibition makes brilliant nostalgic viewing for any football fan, especially if you are from this great city of Manchester, with iconic images from the ’60s to ’80s.
Further details about this exhibition, and about visiting the National Football Museum in Manchester, can be found here: www.nationalfootballmuseum.com
If you have any football-related photographs or stories, please send them to [email protected] we’d love to hear from you.