John Samuel, doyen of Fleet St sports desks, has died

John Samuel, who was a Fleet Street sports editor for more than 20 years in spells on three titles that stretched across four decades, died earlier today. He was 86 years old, and had suffered a heart attack and stroke last week.

John Samuel, left, receiving the SJA's highest honour, the Doug Gardner Award for services to sports journalism, from Barry Newcombe in 2012
John Samuel, left, receiving the SJA’s highest honour, the Doug Gardner Award for services to sports journalism, from Barry Newcombe in 2012. Photograph: Steve Rowe/SJA

“John was a doyen of our business,” Tom Clarke, a fellow sports editor, SJA member and golf partner, said today.

“John transformed The Guardian sports pages from being a vehicle for good writing into a lively forum of news and comment – still with good writing – on the issues of the day.

“He nurtured such fine sports journalists as Frank Keating, Dai Davies, Matthew Engel, Mike Selvey, David Lacey, David Gray, John Rodda and John Roberts. He famously persuaded the paper’s management and upset many Guardian traditionalists by publishing horseracing cards.”

Samuel was the sports editor of the Daily Herald, and then The Observer from 1960 to 1961 and of The Guardian from 1968 to 1986.

His career had begun as a cub reporter covering VE Day for his local paper in Brighton, and continued right through until very recently, still writing features on travel, motoring and golf. Samuel celebrated his 80th year – and the SJA’s 60th – by penning a short series about how the profession had changed in his lifetime.

He remained an active member of the Press Golf Society and of the SJA throughout. In 2012, Samuel was awarded the Association’s highest honour, the Doug Gardner Award, for his services to sports journalism and the SJA.

John Samuel leaves a wife, Mary, two children, Carah and David, and three grandchildren. The officers, committee and members of the Sports Journalists’ Association send John’s family our sincere condolences at this sad time.