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The wisdom of signing Socrates
By Geoff Wicken
The recent news stories about the great Socrates, the former captain of Brazil, emerging from retirement to play for Garforth Town in the Northern Counties East League - albeit only for twenty minutes as a publicity stunt - were intriguing.

None of them mentioned that Socrates has played in England before - in 1981 for Corpus Christi College in the Cambridge University Association Football League, Division Two. As the team's centre-back at the time, allow me to tell the story.

League matches in the CUAFL were played between October and December, with spring reserved for various cup competitions. There were ten teams in each division, playing each other once. In 1979 and 1980 the Corpus Christi side might charitably have been described as mediocre. We were beaten 9-0 by Sidney Sussex College, in a game which we finished with ten men, having started it with nine. We lost 5-4 to Pembroke College, on the receiving end of a hat-trick scored by their Kitchen and Buttery Manager - all three being classic poacher's goals.

Other results were slightly less embarrassing, and we managed to scrape together a sufficient number of points to maintain our place in the second division. And then, in the summer of 1981, a news item appeared in the national press which was to change our destiny.

"Socrates to study at Cambridge" ran the story, which explained how the great bearded footballer, who was famously also a heavy smoker as well as a qualified doctor, was planning to study medicine at Cambridge University.

Already a well-known player, it was predicted that he would be a major figure in the forthcoming 1982 World Cup. We had seen his performance for Brazil in an international in May 1981, so we knew he could do a job for us.

Acting quickly, I suggested to Corpus Christi's Senior Tutor that it would be an honour to have such an eminent figure gracing the hallowed porticos of the college. And so the wheels were set in motion. As a signing-on fee, Socrates initially asked for a house, a car and a large sum of money. He eventually settled for rooms on B staircase, a bicycle and half a dozen silver-plated ashtrays.

As the league season approached, it seemed hard to believe that we would get away with it, but we checked the University rule book, and found that anyone classified as in statu pupillari was eligible. (This would have ruled out Pembroke's Kitchen and Buttery Manager, had we known it at the time.)

Our league programme got off to a flying start, as Socrates banged in seventeen goals in the 18-0 destruction of Sidney Sussex - sweet revenge indeed. Our silky samba skills then accounted for Queen's College by the margin of 13-1 (Socrates 12). Then we had a problem. One of our key players was unavailable for the fixture against Magdalene College, and our opponents rather unsportingly refused to agree to the rearrangement which we felt an international call-up for a World Cup qualifying match against Paraguay merited. They then beat us 3-1.

Socrates returned exhausted from international duty, and for our next game against Clare College was selected only as a substitute. In fact this meant running the line, but after he conspicuously failed to flag for a couple of goals which three of our back four felt were definitely offside, he made amends by coming on with twenty minutes to go and inspiring us to a 6-2 victory.

His performance as substitute won him his place back for the next game, in which we turned over Trinity Hall by 15-1.

We certainly needed the chain-smoking midfield maestro's presence in our next game, against our top-of-the-table rivals St John's, but we didn't have it. Socrates was unable to cancel a tutorial with a professor in medicine from, suspiciously, St John's. We lost 2-0.

Our next game was away to Churchill, and Socrates simply failed to turn up. Apparently his bicycle sustained a puncture on the way to the match, and having repaired it he asked a passing pedestrian (curiously enough, his professor from St John's) the way to Churchill's sports ground. On following these directions he ended up four miles away on the wrong side of town. Fortunately those newly acquired samba skills stood us in good stead without him, and we escaped with a point from a 2-2 draw.

With four wins and a draw from seven games it was crunch time. We needed to win both of our last two games to achieve promotion, in what would be a tense finale to the season.

It was then, however, that the cold winter of 1981 turned bitter. The snow fell, and with temperatures the lowest ever recorded in the region, it stayed on the ground. The two matches were postponed time and again, and it was late March before the pitches were playable. This of course simply made the tension worse.

But happily our nerve held. Whilst we were unable to play in our usual relaxed manner against Fitzwilliam II, due to the importance of the occasion, we still emerged victorious by 16-1. Finally, on 1st April 1982, we finished with a flourish, and in what was undoubtedly our finest performance of the season we confounded our critics with a 23-0 win over Peterhouse.

And so it was that the great Socrates inspired the Corpus Christi side to promotion from the second division of the CUAFL in 1981-82. Although playing only five full games, plus one as substitute, he scored 84 of our 94 goals.

It was unfortunate that his talents would not grace the first division the following season, because his course only lasted for one year, and he had signed to play for Fiorentina after the 1982 World Cup Finals.

Once promoted, how would the team fare in the higher grade of football? As I graduated and left the college in the summer of 1982, I don't know all the details. But I do know that the team had an extraordinary stroke of luck. Just after Socrates played his last match for the college in April 1982, the Falklands War broke out. Ossie Ardiles decided that playing for Spurs at this time was not a good idea, and between April 1982 and January 1983 kept a low profile away from professional football. Already a qualified lawyer, he decided to continue his study of law at Cambridge University....