UNTOLD STORIES: SOCRATES AT GARFORTH
For the roots of the unlikely story of Brazilian legend Socrates’ lone appearance for Garforth Town in 2004 you have to rewind to the mid 90’s, and to a soccer skills class outside a school in Leeds. It was here that Garforth Towns future owner Simon Clifford founded the first of his highly influential soccer schools, based on the training techniques and style of Brazilian football.
His initial venture was a success and a year after the schools foundation Clifford gained funding for a trip to Brazil that was to be filmed by the BBC. The publicity around the trip, during which Clifford talked with the likes of Zico and Rivellino, helped cause an explosion in the popularity of his Brazilian soccer schools brand which soon saw the brand expanding internationally
Five years after opening his first soccer school Clifford decided try his hand at football club ownership with the purchase of Garforth Town, then of the Northern Counties East League. He was bullish with his intentions for the club, looking to both raise its profile and league standing.
The 20th November 2004 would see him at the very least emphatically achieve the former.
Reporters and photographers from across the UK gathered early that freezing November day. They must scarcely have believed that in a few hours the iconic Dr Socrates, leader of the great Brazilian side of the 80’s, would be turning out for Garforth, a town of 20,000 on the outskirts of Leeds.
It’s fair to say Socrates was laid back about the whole situation, with Clifford later stating that “his warm-up had consisted of drinking two bottles of Budweiser and three cigarettes”.
Socrates spent most of that day slowly disappearing under an ever increasing number of coats, hats and scarfs while jovially awaiting his introduction into the game. He would occasionally rise to sign autographs and smile contentedly to the packed crowd. All in all he probably felt the pre match beers were an astute choice.
The game was a good one, Garforth were welcoming Tadcaster Albion and had started brightly, no doubt spurred on by the giddy energy of having a rare packed house, as well as one of the all time greats watching on. A two goal half time lead added to the overall party atmosphere within Wheatley Park but a roaring comeback would see Tadcaster level with half an hour to go. Then a penalty was awarded to Garforth with 20 to play. Surely it was time for the doctor.
Alas, it was not. Greg Kelly missed and Socrates inclusion in the game five minutes later did little to change the outcome as the final whistle blew at two all.
For Socrates his cameo had very much been a brief one but for Clifford it had achieved exactly what he had hoped. Garforth Town had gone from near complete anonymity to national news, at least for the day. What’s more, Socrates also refused payment of any kind for for his solitary appearance.
“He brought a kind of magic. The club was almost bankrupt but he became part of our crusade for promotion.”
Throughout his life Socrates was undoubtably always a man of the people, but on on a freezing cold day sixteen years ago he sat on a bench for 75 minutes and proved it.
Words by Andy Gallagher