On the day Sócrates would have turned 67, Fergus Dowd profiles the medical student at the heart of Brazil’s 1982 World Cup side, the team Seleção supporters call the greatest of them all.

It was the first week of July 1982, and Christine Fagan had just walked out on Michael and their ten-year marriage taking the four children with her.

As the nightingales sang their morning hymn in unison and the sun shone across London town, Michael Fagan decided now was his time for a sitting with her majesty.

Fagan, a painter, and decorator by trade, had found himself dismissed like so many during Britain’s worst economic recession; 11 per cent of the population were unemployed that same week.

The economic downturn under Margaret Thatcher’s government was triggered by tight monetary policy in an effort to fight mounting inflation.

Thatcher’s policy of individuality over communities had been detrimental for Fagan and his family. 

Michael Fagan had had enough and by 7:15am that morning he was tiptoeing across Queen Elizabeth II’s bedroom, pulling the curtains as her royal highness lay sleeping.

That same week as Fagan was planning his assault on Buckingham Palace, the footballing royalty of Brazil and Italy were facing off in the 12th World Cup hosted in Spain.

Football’s blue riband tournament had seen some significant format changes since the previous tournament of 1978, with the number of teams increased from 16 to 24.

In the space of ten days, it seemed the world had fallen in love with the names Zico, Eder, Falcao, and Junior; their flair at Espana ‘82 had captured the hearts and minds of millions.

Although playing to the backdrop of the samba drums at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, home of Sevilla Futból club, the Seleção struggled against their first opponents, the USSR.

A calamitous error by goalkeeper Waldir Peres on 34 minutes from a speculative 20 metre effort from Andriy Bal gave the Russians the lead taking the sting out of the dancing on the terraces; Bal would lose his life playing in a veterans’ game from a blood clot years later. 

However, all was not lost for the boys from Brazil. Step forward their crown jewel in the shape of Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieria de Oliveira, simply known as Sócrates.

A thinking man’s footballer who co-founded the Corinthians Movement in opposition to the then ruling military government in Brazil, Fagan would have admired him. 

Led by the cultured midfield maestro, the squad of players took over the running of the Time do Povo(m (The peoples’ team) in São Paulo. 

This influential political cell rebelled against the authoritarian way the football club was run by the powers that be.

Taking their protest to the pitch, Sócrates and his teammates would wear shirts with ‘Democracia’ on them during games.

Before the World Cup, the Corinthians team promoted to fans back home the need to vote in the upcoming November elections.

The election that year would be the first multiparty, unrestricted congressional and gubernatorial elections since a military coup in 1964.

As he covered every blade of grass in Seville that night, Sócrates was aware that the Figueiredo administration continued to maintain the military’s political influence by discrediting and dividing the opposition in the build-up to this unique day. 

By the 75th minute, though, the whole world would know the name ‘Sócrates’. A poor clearance from a throw-in by the Soviets fell to the qualified ‘Doctor’ 35 yards from the opposition’s goal.

The great philosopher skipped past one tackle and shimmied to the right to avoid a second challenge; now, 25 yards out, he let fly with a glorious right-footed strike that had Rinat Dasayev scrambling in vain as the ball hit the top left-hand corner. Brazil were level.

Sócrates knew all about the coup d’etat on the 31st of March 1964; he would never forget his father burning the books of philosophy and medicine he treasured as the troops took over Sao Paulo.

The family lived in the Ribeirão Preto area, and the young ‘Sampaio’ attended the Colegío Marista, which flamed his love of medicine even more.

He had given up on his first love to play in the fields of Spain and to be involved in the greatest sporting show on earth. As with everything else he turned to, he had made his mark.

His father, Raimundo, who worked as a revenue supervisor and was something of a small-town hero, had pleaded with his son about his lifestyle, specifically his smoking and drinking.

Sócrates was a man who rathered twenty Minister and a bottle of Brahma to climbing hills or running laps; his coach Téle Santana had stated the scourge of tobacco would stop him from reaching his potential of footballing greatness.

Santana himself had stopped smoking in 1965 ahead of the World Cup in England. Incredibly in Brazil in 1982, one out of every five adults smoked.

However, it was a fellow staunch nationalist, Gilberto Tim, the team’s trainer, who advised the team captain to quit at the start of 1982.

Tim had revolutionised training regimes in Brazil in the 70s, introducing stretching exercises and creating a weights room back home in the Beira-Rio complex; Santana had installed him as trainer. He would also oversee the 1986 World Cup side.

Thirteen minutes after Sócrates’ equaliser, ‘O Canháo’ – The Cannon – struck. As Paulo Isidoro passed the ball along the 18-yard line, Falcao dummied letting the ball run to Eder who flicked it up with his magical left foot and hit a thunderous strike which had Dasayev rooted to the spot wondering what had whizzed passed him.

After this victory, the Samba Boys turned on the style despatching Scotland with a quartet of goals. 

The pick of them was an equalising free-kick by Zico, which like Dasayev, had Alan Rough gobsmacked; David Narey of Dundee United had struck his own wonder goal to give the Scots a shock lead, but Brazil went into cruise control after Zico’s equaliser.

Flamenco had originally believed Zico was too small and skinny to make the grade. 

The whipping boys of New Zealand were routed next as Brazil’s goals for column hit plus ten, a brace from Zico and one each from Falcao, and Serginho had the yellow hordes in ecstasy.

Sócrates and his teammates were pitted in the second round’s ‘group of death’ with the Azurri and Argentina, who had a young Maradona making his World Cup bow.

The reigning world champions were given a lesson of pass and move football from the Gods as the Seleção won out three goals to one.

In a sometimes ill-tempered affair, the late great Diego would see red, but his time would come.

For Brazilians, all roads led to the city of the counts and the Estadi de Sarria, home to the Catalans of Racing Espanyol who had won the first ‘Copa del Generalissimo’ in 1940, aptly named after dictator General Franco the victor of the Spanish Civil War.

Those in attendance in the 44,000 capacity crowd witnessed an enthralling, dramatic, and epic 90 minutes of classic World Cup football.

Sócrates and his colleagues knew a draw would be good enough to give them a semi-final berth.

Still, their slow starting syndrome continued as they found themselves falling behind to an early Paolo Rossi header from a centre by left-back Antonio Cabrini.

Seven minutes later, Sócrates played a ball down the right flank to Zico who, with a ‘Cruyff’ turn, left Claudio Gentile for dead and nudged the ball through for the on running Sócrates who left all of Italy in his wake to despatch a right-footed shot past the flailing Dino Zoff at his near post.

The BBC’s John Motson from the gantry described it ‘as a goal that summed up the philosophy of Brazilian football’ as Sócrates, with arms outstretched, stood in front of his sun-soaked adoring fans celebrating one of the all-time great world cup goals.

Sadly parity didn’t last long; with 25 minutes on the clock, defender Cerezo played a wayward pass, which Rossi latched on to and dispatched past Peres.

As the match moved into the second half and the clock ticked down suiting the Italians, Falcao, who was dubbed the ‘Eighth King of Rome’ by I Giallorossi, found space outside the Italian box and struck a superb left-foot shot which rippled the Italian net.

Alas, it was not to be. With 16 minutes left Paolo Rossi struck from three yards to complete a low-grade hat-trick and break Brazilian hearts.

In the bowels of the Estadio de Sarri, Sócrates and his teammates shed tears as their dreams lay in tatters; the most entertaining team ever witnessed at a World Cup had taken their final bow.

The Brazilian elections of November 1982 saw the Democratic Social Party top the polls as the inexorable process of ‘opening up’ to political democratisation began with civilian governors from the opposition parties elected in the three main cities Sáo Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Río de Janeiro.

While Sócrates and his Corinthians teammates celebrated a new dawn in Brazilian political history, Michael Fagan’s actions were deemed a civil wrong rather than criminal. There would be no prison stay at her majesty’s pleasure for his trespassing. 

In 1984 Sócrates landed in the city of Florence, joining the Italian side Fiorentina; it seemed a perfect location for the great philosopher of football not far from the Platonic Academy, which had housed the circle of philosophers from the 15th century.

On his arrival, one scribe asked Sócrates why he had come to Italy? “To read the works of Marx in Italian,’ he replied.

Illustration: Graham Carew

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