Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport the Legendary Socrates

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport the Legendary Socrates

Article excerpt

The great footballer Pat Nevin, as fluent, funny and intelligent an ex-player as you are likely to find, tells a wonderful story about using the word 'equidistant' to a referee when they were lining up a free kick. The players looked at him as if he was an alien and the referee nearly booked him for swearing.

One of the reasons why, notwithstanding the manly virtues and short back and sides of Bobby Moore's World Cup heroes, for pasty, middleclass fans like myself who grew up when a footballer with an O-level was regarded as a freak (so much so that they were all nicknamed Bamber by the newspapers), the arrival of a player like the wondrous Brazilian midfielder Socrates was heaven-sent. He was middle-class like us, he liked Camus and looked like Che Guevara, he trained to be a doctor, he wore a bandana saying 'NO TERROR', he had great hair, and he smoked and drank.

He captained the legendary Brazil side of 1982, which winged it, and now both are remembered with love and awe and passion. Socrates epitomised the spirit that there was more to sport than just winning. There is a wonderful picture of him in the '82 match against Argentina. His body, whip-thin (that would change), coiled like a perfect S, his back straight, his head perfectly balanced, strong legs, lean arms, clear eyes focused on the ball. It is a model of what an athlete should be.

The whole team was entirely instinctive and that's why they were flawed.

But how would you rather have your sportsmen? Rob Andrew or Barry John? Glenn Hoddle or Billy Bremner?

David Gower or Kepler Wessels? Socrates played sport the way it should be played, but not necessarily the way that worked best. But that's why we love teams like that, I guess. What about England 1990? Bobby Robson's side's campaign had it all, late goals, drama and tears, not just Gazza's either, before losing a penalty shoot-out with Germany. …

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