Monday, January 30, 2012


No, this isn’t about the philosopher. I leave that kind of stuff to our Greek expert, Jeff Siger.

My post of today is about this guy:

Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira.

It’s been my privilege to be introduced to some of the greatest stars Brazilian football ever produced, Pele, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Gerson, Tostão, Falcão, Zico, but there was no one quite like Socrates.

We met first on the Lido, in Venice, back in 1983, when he was already a star, and I was still very ignorant about the beautiful game. He was there with a friend of mine. We boarded the same boat to go to the Rialto.

I’d heard of him, of course. In Brazil, Doctor Socrates was already a household name and widely-regarded as one of the greatest midfielders ever to play the game.

He’d been captain of the Brazilian team that played against Italy in the 1982 World Cup, a game of such surpassing skill and spontaneity that no one who saw it will ever forget it.

But I thought Doctor was just a sobriquet.

Not so. That day, in chatting with him, I learned that Socrates actually was a doctor, an orthopedic surgeon. And that he was also a folk singer, an author and a very modest and agreeable man.

Who, surprisingly, didn’t put football first.

The things that concerned him were eliminating poverty and building roads and schools.

And it wasn’t just talk.
In later years, after he retired, he went on to become a political activist. He wrote for newspapers, not only about sport, but also about politics and economics.

Unfortunately, he also became an alcoholic.

The activism was of a kind that could have gotten him killed during the military dictatorship of the 1970’s.

And the alcoholism did kill him.

Take a moment, now, to enjoy the Brazilian Team’s goals in the 1982 World Cup, from the days when Socrates was in his prime:

(C’mon, watch the video. Please! It’s a part of my continuing campaign to generate interest in the sport among you non-football fans. Remember, there’s only a little over two years to go before the event kicks off here in Brazil.)

Socrates died last month at the age of 56, just one day before his old team, Corinthians, won the Brazilian championship for the fifth time.

He was a doctor. He knew what the endless cigarettes and caiprinhas he was so fond of had done to his health.

Nevertheless, on the night he died, he went to a restaurant with a group of friends and overloaded his liver with the same degree of serenity that his namesake displayed when he drank the hemlock.

He was a most extraordinary man.

And Brazil is missing him.

Leighton - Monday


  1. Whoa..Leighton, not much impresses these days, but you knew Socrates? I think I need to lie down...

    I remember the 1982 World Cup as if it was yesterday. It's burned onto my 10 year-old mind. The spectacular and the epic tussle between Italy and Brazil is one of the greatest games ever played. That Brazilian team must have been one of the best never to win the cup. There were legends across the pitch, and at their heart, the elegant, aloof, imperious, bearded Colossus Socrates. Their defeat by Italy, with the disgraced Rossi being the hero, is all the evidence you need for the fact that karma and justice never play a part in sport. The bad guys usually win...

    I agree. Watch Socrates, Zico, Junior in action...and then go searching for Brazil's fourth goal in their trouncing of Italy in the 1970 final (what was that about karma?), Pele's lay-off, Carlos Alberto's finish...and tell me that football at its best doesn't approach great art.

  2. He was a bad boy of Brasil. Nevertheless he had great skills and feel for the game. A true legend

  3. Leighton, I've come around to appreciating soccer a lot later in life than Dan, but nevertheless I have. I guess it comes from thirty years of summers and amid mad European fans.

    And yes, I watched the video.

    I do have one question though and it's about the headband Socrates is wearing in the photo at the top of your post. I know the name is misspelled by a letter, but is he demonstrating a fondness for me or Ms. Sigurdardottir?

  4. Ha!
    After you called it to my attention, Jeff, I looked more closely. And then called Eide in to consult.
    The shot, we now know, was taken during the World Cup in Mexico in 1986.
    And we believe that what is written there is in Spanish, but there's not enough of it visible to be sure.
    There's another shot from about the same time where his headband reads, in English, "people need justice".
    The handbands were a necessity for him to keep his long hair out of his eyes, but they became as much of a part of his "persona" as the beard.
    And it wasn't long before he started using the space to convey messages, mostly of a humanitarian nature.

  5. Nenad,
    Might you be thinking of someone else?
    Brazil has certainly had it's share of "bad boys", but I have never heard of Socrates being accused of being one of them.
    And very much to the contrary.

  6. Wow, Leighton, you are friends with all those legends including Pele and the man you dedicated this article too. I'm in AWE! Even someone who is not that familiar with the game, I LOVE these guys and their game.

    Wonderful post! Have already shared on Google and will now spread the word - there is a lesson to learn in there. Thanks!