Latin America & Caribbean

Socrates stories: BBC Brasil recalls footballing great

Image caption Socrates created many memorable footballing moments

To most Brazilians he was known fondly as "Doutor" (The Doctor), a reference to his medical degree. Well-read and highly politicised, Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira was unlike many footballers.

BBC Brasil reporters Bruno Garcez and Rodrigo Durao Coelho recall an evening spent in his company.

When we learned that Socrates was in London and would be at a venue speaking to his Brazilian fans, we did not hesitate. We just had to be there.

Socrates had come to England in November 2004, invited by a small local team in West Yorkshire, Garforth Town, where he gave workshops and played his first match in 15 years.

The footballer was known to be fond of a drink and a smoke.

It was little wonder then that the place chosen for his chat with us was a Brazilian nightclub in Central London with a vast stock of beers and caipirinhas [Brazilian cocktails].

Socrates was not like we had imagined. He was far more clever and sharp-tongued in his answers, and courteous and patient with the many people who were asking for pictures and autographs.

While many players shied away from controversial issues, Socrates did not hesitate to speak his mind about anything, be it Brazilian football or politics.

He had starting making plans about running a football team in our home country, but had no qualms about saying that Brazilian team owners did not understand anything about football, only about profits.

Socrates was famous as a supporter of Brazil's left-leaning Workers Party (PT), who after several unsuccessful attempts had finally won the presidency with Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2002.

But despite his ties to the party, he described Lula's administration as "frustrating".

'Crazy hippy'

The London meeting heard plenty of reminiscences.

Socrates talked about the much-loved but under-achieving Brazilian national squad of 1982.

Image caption Socrates: Supreme footballer, political animal

''I still travel the world and find out that the 82 team is everybody's team," he said.

But he said he had only once watched the painful Brazil v Italy match during that World Cup.

Italy's 3-2 victory meant the end of the World Cup dreams of a team considered to be one of the best Brazilian sides ever.

Socrates also told us that his favourite English player was Manchester United's Paul Scholes.

Between sips of beer, Socrates said that he was fully aware he was regarded as a fish out of water.

''Because of my political stance, for being outspoken and for being a doctor," he said.

"It's a bit weird for most people. They see me as a crazy hippy. After I wrote a theatre play, I bet even more people must have found me unbearable."

After politely addressing all of his fans, Socrates just wanted to relax while having a cigarette and a few more beers.

But the driver hired by Garforth Town to look after him insisted they should head back to the hotel.

"Sir," the driver said in English. "We really must go now."

Socrates did not speak much English but he understood enough to know what was happening.

Finally, as the driver kept pressing him to go, Socrates accepted he had no option.

Employing colourful Portuguese, he replied that he would go but was not happy about it.

From the Doctor's lips, the offending words sounded as elegant and sweet as a Socrates back-heel on the pitch.

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