Remembering when Brazil’s Socrates played for a non-league club in Leeds

After spending most of his career in Brazil, you’d be forgiven for thinking that West Yorkshire wouldn’t be on Socrates’ radar – yet in 2004 he found himself at Garforth Town.

The legendary midfielder was one of the finest talents of his generation, winning 60 caps for Brazil and captaining them during the 1982 World Cup.

Socrates retired from the professional game in 1990, but more than a decade later he dusted off his boots and came out of retirement in the most unexpected of circumstances.

Brazilian connections

When Simon Clifford became Garforth Town owner in 2003, he announced his plan to transform them from a team in the Northern Counties East League to an established Premier League side within 20 years.

Unsurprisingly, most people didn’t take him seriously, but the businessman had made his fortunes by setting up a worldwide network of Brazilian soccer schools, and he had a lot of contacts within the game.

After Garforth lost their opening two matches of the 2004-05 season, Clifford installed himself as manager and began working on bringing new players to the club, as he tried to turn things around.

They signed ex-Manchester United winger Lee Sharpe first, but that was only the beginning and rumours began to circulate they were making an audacious move for a former Brazilian footballer.

Garforth then made headlines around the world by confirming that Socrates, aged 50 at the time, was about to join the club as a player-coach on a one-month deal.

Nobody could quite believe that an all-time great was about to ply his trade in the ninth tier of English football, but Socrates revealed his motives behind joining the club were not related to him actually playing football.

“I’m here because I was invited by Simon to see his children’s project which I find very interesting. He’s using sport, particularly football, to help the children to socialise and to help the physical condition,” said Socrates.

“The point is not playing football. The point is Simon’s project and I’ve fallen in love with it.”

His arrival was undoubtedly a way of promoting Clifford’s soccer academies, but did the fans really care that it was just a publicity stunt? Of course not.

Socrates’ Garforth debut

Under Clifford’s management, Garforth soared up the league table and still had their not so secret weapon to unleash.

Ahead of his much-anticipated debut against Tadcaster Albion in November, Socrates mania gripped the town while the demand for tickets soared.

“I am really looking forward to putting on the Garforth Town strip. I don’t know anything about the place and I’ve never been to the north of England, but I’m always up for new experiences,” Socrates said after arriving in England.

“It will be fun to see what the quality of the game is like against Tadcaster. I’m not sure how long I’ll manage, but I’ll give it my best shot. I’m 50 years old so I evidently won’t be the fastest man on the pitch. But I’m sure I can remember a few tricks.”

While Garforth’s yellow shirts and blue shorts may have been a bit familiar for Socrates, that’s where the similarities with his career in Brazil ended.

In his prime, Socrates was used to playing in front of 80,000 in the Maracana, but just over 1,000 people turned up at Wheatley Park that afternoon, wearing curly wigs and Brazil shirts.

The West Yorkshire climate also proved to be a culture shock for the Brazilian, as he wrapped himself up in an overcoat and a scarf before taking his place on the bench.

It looked like Garforth would manage without their new star signing as they were 2-0 up at half-time while Socrates remained on the sidelines.

But Tadcaster turned the game around in the second half to make it 2-2, so fans started to call for the Brazilian’s introduction with chants of “We want Socrates!”

In the 78th minute, Socrates stripped off his layers of protective clothing but still came on wearing gloves, knee-length shorts and an extra-large shirt.

Garforth Town’s new No.6 received a rousing reception from the home crowd and with his very first touch took a powerful dipping shot from 25 yards that forced a save from the goalkeeper.

However, the grey-bearded and pot-bellied midfielder spent the rest of the match lumbering across the pitch, appearing like a father playing in a Dads v Lads game.

Socrates managed just a few touches and struggled to keep up with the pace of the game so was unable to make much of a contribution as the game finished 2-2.

At the final whistle, he looked relieved to get back to the dressing room, but fans still ran on to the pitch clambering to get near to the legendary footballer.

“It was far too cold, the second I got out there I had an incredible headache. I’m just not used to it,” Socrates said afterwards.

“It was much faster than the type of football I’m used to. It was a lot more competitive and keenly fought, but I really enjoyed it and it was an interesting experience.”

His legacy

Socrates didn’t have the impact that fans may have dreamed of and his unorthodox warm-up routine probably didn’t help.

“I decided not to play him in the next game because his warm-up had consisted of drinking two bottles of Budweiser and three cigarettes which we had in the changing rooms,” Clifford told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“I didn’t think it was a good idea for him to carry on playing too much more though he was keen to.”

Therefore, his 12-minute cameo against Tadcaster Albion proved to be both his first and last appearance for the club, and his Garforth Town career was over in the blink of an eye.

The Brazilian realised that age had caught up with him, and he hung up his boots for the second time before returning to his TV career in Brazil.

Even though he made just one solitary appearance for Garforth, the club had been lifted by his presence, and they went on to secure promotion at the end of the season.

“Socrates brought a kind of magic. The club was almost bankrupt, but he became part of our crusade for promotion,” Clifford said.

“He showed great grace in playing for me. He took no money for playing, and he will always be special to us.”

His time at the club also led to another big-name novelty signing as Careca made an appearance for the minnows in a pre-season friendly.

However, Socrates’ legacy reached far beyond the pitch, and he helped put Clifford’s soccer academies on the map before passing away in 2011.

The Brazilian will be remembered as one of football’s most charismatic and unconventional characters – and, in West Yorkshire at least, for his brief spell at Garforth Town.

By Nathan Egerton

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