The revelation that Milton and Socrates were once paired in central midfield for the South China team may leave you scratching your head in bewilderment. Whatever next: Plato and Chaucer spearheading the attack for Boca Juniors? The image may have all the hallmarks of a Monty Python sketch, but it is far from fanciful.
True, the Milton in question was christened Russell and has yet to write any poetry; and true, this particular Socrates was an elegant Brazilian footballer as opposed to a philosopher. But the erudite references are not totally ludicrous (Milton is an English teacher while Socrates is a doctor of medicine) and at least they really did play in the same side.
The season was 1990-91, and there is photographic evidence to prove it. "I treasure those memories," the modern Milton says, "and I'm often having a look at the pictures and videos from that era." It was in June 1989, after he had been released by Arsenal at the end of their Championship- winning season, that Milton decided to turn his back on a career in the lower reaches of British football to ply his trade in Hong Kong.
"The money was good, the place seemed exciting and the challenge appealed to me," Milton says. "I had no qualms about jumping ship." Little did he suspect that a decade later he would be back on home soil with a lower- League club, Cheltenham Town, preparing for an FA Cup fifth-round tie at West Bromwich Albion. "When I left Arsenal, I thought that was it in terms of Cup runs," he admits. "So this is a rather pleasant surprise."
Milton's original decision to make a clean break from England was a risky one. "I had been on the verge of the Arsenal first team for a while," he explains, "but George Graham [the manager at the time] had just blooded a number of youngsters and it was clear that he could not give any more a chance for a while. I was 20 and unsure what to do, until Brian Marwood told me of this club in the Hong Kong League that were looking for players. A week later, I had signed for South China."
The midfielder spent four successful seasons at the club, during which time they won the cup and never failed to finish outside the league's top three. He played alongside the likes of Tony Morley and John Spencer, but no team-mate was ever quite as impressive as Socrates. "I remember when he first turned up at training," Milton says. "Here was an amazing player, the former captain of Brazil, joining our club to play next to me in central midfield. …