Saturday, 20 November 2004

Garforth Town 2 Tadcaster Albion 2

Attendance: 1,350
Northern Counties East League, First Division
I could hardly believe that I was driving in the rain into Leeds at during my lunch break full of anticipation in buying a ticket for Garforth Town v. Tadcaster Albion. On paper it an ordinary Northern Counties East League Division One fixture. Ordinary in every sense other than the identity of the home side’s debutant: Socrates, the captain of the Brazilian World Cup sides of 1982 and 1986.

He had been signed up by Garforth’s owner and manager, Simon Clifford (pictured above, right), who has contacts in Brazil from his Brazilian soccer school business. When Socrates came out for the pre-match warm-up he was hard to recognise. To be honest, from where I was standing he could’ve been Lee Sharpe – Garforth’s other recent star signing who sadly wasn’t playing – with a suntan and beard or the owner of the local kebab shop. If his girth is anything to go by the latter was, come to think of it, a distinct possibility.

I can never remember a match where so much interest was focused on the bench where, of course, our hero resided for the first 77 minutes. The press cameras were trained on it, oblivious to the action. (The match ended 2-2, by the way). The photos opportunities got better: Socrates in a track suit top, in a fleece, with a scarf and hat, and finally tucked up beneath a blanket sipping a hot drink in a polystyrene cup, miles from the Maracana in more ways than one, to slip into caption writer lingo. When the moment came it seemed unkind to disturb the old fellow. I’ve never anticipated a substitution so keenly since the days when I was shivering on the touchline – and no-one ever offered me a blanket.

“Substitution for Garforth Town,” came the announcement over the tannoy. “No 2, Matt Higginbottom, for Socrates!” Fantasy became reality – and almost became myth when Socrates brought a save out of the Tadcaster keeper with his first kick. His other contributions were three or four lay-offs, an initially deft-looking flick which actually went to the middle of nowhere and an ungainly topple. “We’re basically playing with ten men,” is how one Garforth fan summed up the ultimate supersub’s outing. But this was hardly a sad end to a glorious career; much more a star turn than a league debut. The most memorable thing out his performance to me was the unfeasibly long shorts he was wearing, as I told a reporter from Brazil TV after the match. He was interviewing everything that moved – and Socrates.
The match ended and the press engulfed Socrates again. With a quick wave of his hand he broke into a jog for the second time of the afternoon (the first was when he came on) and disappeared down the tunnel. Will he back for the promised second match of his brief tenure? The might of Pontefract Collieries awaits.