Socrates keen to hit the north
Alex Bellos and David Hopps
Thursday October 28, 2004
"I'm always curious for new experiences," said Socrates, former Brazil captain and veteran of two World Cups, yesterday from his home in Ribeirao Preto. "I don't know anything about Garforth Town now, but I'm sure I'll learn something when I'm there."
Even for a footballer renowned for idiosyncrasy, the wild-haired 50-year-old's decision to sign for a non-league club in the North-East Counties League, the lowest tier of the FA feeder system, must count as the most bizarre of his career.
Socrates has decided to come out of retirement to play at least one game for Garforth, and is expected to pit his fading skills against Tadcaster Albion on November 20.
The transfer coup of the non-league season was engineered by Simon Clifford, the charismatic owner and coach of semi-pro Garforth. Clifford, a 33-year-old former primary school teacher, runs an international network of 500 soccer schools that teach children fancy Brazilian ball skills. He bought Garforth last year to showcase his training methods by fielding his best pupils.
"Ever since the 1982 World Cup I've always idolised Socrates," he said. "I thought it would be a good idea to invite him over since it will be a great source of inspiration for the lads. I believe magic rubs off."
Socrates will be expected to coach the side and play when Garforth, currently second, face top-of-the-league Tadcaster. "I'm very happy to come over and take part in Simon's project, to exchange information and see his schools," he said.
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Ever since he appeared on the football scene, with his trademark wild hair and beard, in the late 1970s, Socrates has been something of a maverick.
As well as playing in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, he is as remembered for his off-pitch activities. A chain-smoker and beer-lover, he is also a qualified doctor and was an important political activist during Brazil's military dictatorship. Now a columnist and broadcaster, this week he launched a new career as a playwright when a musical he had co-written opened in Sao Paulo.
Garforth, whose crowds have not exceeded 300 this year, are expecting their 3,000-capacity stadium to sell out.
But Socrates was last night warned to expect a frosty reception from the manager of his first opponents.
Tadcaster Albion's manager, Jim Collis, could barely disguise his disdain as he broke off from tea-time frying duties at Jim Collis' Fish 'n' Chips in York.
"I don't know. A bloke who has captained Brazil and won two World Cups [sic] - I don't understand what he is getting out of it," he said. "I'm all for players dropping into lower leagues and improving standards, so don't get me wrong, but I don't know if it's propaganda or a publicity stunt. If you ask my thoughts, well, all I can think is it's a bad joke."
Collis said he would make no special plans to contain the Brazilian. "I won't be man-marking him. I'm a great believer in the opposition man-marking us.
"If he plays central midfield, I've got two lads in there and whoever is nearest will pick him up. Dave Waddington is the hardest - he works as a floor tiler with his dad in York. He is a ball winner like David Batty was at Leeds. But I'll not be saying 'you stick with him'. I'm not having Socrates pull him out of position."
Socrates will line up next to Clifford's other signing this season, the former England international Lee Sharpe, whom he met by chance in a TV studio.
Clifford said: "From what I've seen of Socrates from pictures and the telly he still looks pretty fit, so I think he'll be able to cope with the West Yorkshire November. I'm even prepared to make an exception for him from my draconian no-smoking rule. And anyway, some of my lads have worse habits than he does so I'm sure he will be in good company."
Clifford started his first Brazilian soccer school after a chance meeting with Juninho's dad when the Brazilian was at Middlesborough. Clifford hopes to sign Juninho when he leaves Celtic and also recruit the former Boro midfielder Emerson. "Emerson has already expressed an interest," he added.