Socrates; He Was the Maverick Brazilian Superstar Who Liked a Smoke and a Drink. and Wasn't Afraid to Speak His Mind on Politics, Medicine and Philosophy

Daily Mail (London), June 16, 2018 | Go to article overview

Socrates; He Was the Maverick Brazilian Superstar Who Liked a Smoke and a Drink. and Wasn't Afraid to Speak His Mind on Politics, Medicine and Philosophy


Byline: HUGH MACDONALD

tHE appointment with the doctor has created a legendary Scottish anecdote, typically laced with drink and laden with doubt over its precise veracity.

However, there is an unassailable truth about Socrates, Brazilian player, doctor and medic. He was legend made of fragile flesh. There is also at least one certainty about his drugs test after the Brazil v Scotland match in 1982. That is, it happened.

The cast list is imprecise. One accepted version is that Gordon Strachan, John Robertson and David Narey were selected for drug-testing after the Dundee United player had provoked Brazil by giving Scotland a lead before the inevitable backlash came in the form of four goals.

But Willie Miller also remembers being there. The truth is that all the Scots found it difficult to provide a sample. Miller once told BBC Scotland that, as he sat in a mixture of dehydration and frustration, an official asked him if he wanted a drink.

A crate of San Miguel and a packet of fags were introduced to the mix. Socrates, the Brazilian chosen for testing, strolled in, downed 'about a dozen little bottles' and lit up a fag.

Socrates, too, later testified to complementing his hydration efforts with 'a little champagne'. Nature eventually flowed and the great midfielder ambled back out into a world that he beguiled, informed and, at times, disappointed.

Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira spent only 57 years on the planet, dying in December 2011, but his impact and influence were extraordinary.

It is appropriate that a Scot, Andrew Downie, has written one of the great football books about Socrates.

Dr Socrates (Simon & Schuster) contains much of the Caledonian capacity to self-destruct, much of the ability to underachieve and much of the macho but fragile Scot in the languid shape of a footballer who not only controlled midfields but wandered into politics, philosophy and medicine.

So was Socrates in many ways an honorary Scotsman? 'Well, in every respect, except that he could play football,' says Downie with a smile, though he adds that the Scotland team of 1982 was an excellent side. Downie, who has worked in Brazil for 19 years, is keener to emphasise how his subject was a personification of much of Brazilian culture in his time.

'Brazil in the 1970s and 1980s was a hugely unequal society. Most players were dark-skinned and poor. The two usually go together. They were also uneducated.

'Socrates came from an upper middle-class family and studied medicine at university, becoming a doctor. He had been brought up as part of the ruling classes. That context is important in seeing how he acted.' Socrates famously summed up his philosophy in one sentence: 'I smoke, I think and I drink.' This attitude compromised a football career that saw him most famously in the shirt of Corinthians but also included spells with Botafogo, Fiorentina, and Santos. But the spirit encapsulated in such an honest, almost reckless sentence also informed his public life.

'He was impossible to capture in one word,' says Downie, a onetime engineer in Edinburgh who ventured abroad before finding his vocation in writing. 'Some said he was a nihilist, others said he was a libertarian.

'He could be difficult or egocentric but how can you fail to laud this man who stands up in front of a million and half people at a rally in a dictatorship and says: "I am voting for democracy and I will stay here and play football if you vote for democracy".

'He put his career on the line for bigger causes. Is that diminished in any way because of his behaviour to wives, children, even friends?' The truth is that if Socrates' principles were praiseworthy and unbending, his private life was chaotic. He left behind betrayed wives, children who were loved but regularly unseen, and friends who were largely ignored. …

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