The Drugs Test
What really happened when Sócrates was called to give a sample in the 1982 World Cup?
At the start of 1982 Sócrates decided to give up the booze and fags and get in shape for the World Cup. It was a difficult decision for the hard-drinking, chain-smoking Brazil captain and he struggled to get ready for the most important competition of his career. Even before arriving in Spain he jokingly told his teammates that he dreamt of being selected for the anti-doping tests so he could finally have a drink. A few minutes after Brazil hammered Scotland 4-1, his wish came true. What really went on in the doctor’s room that hot June night has spawned many a tall tale.
This piece is all about yarns and memory and so we’ll start with the best one.
The Scotland squad at that tournament was studded with household names, but even with players like Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Steve Archibald in their ranks, no one gave them a hope against Brazil, a side that had lost just twice in their previous 34 games. So it was a shock to almost everyone inside Seville’s Benito Villamarín stadium when David Narey put the Scots ahead after 18 minutes. Narey toe-bashed the ball into the top corner, threw his hands in the air and then pirouetted in celebration, looking exactly like someone who couldn’t believe he’d just given Scotland the lead against Brazil. His teammates ran to congratulate him but, as the legend goes, one of them didn’t come to pat him on the back. “What did ye go and dae that fir?” said the unidentified voice. “Now they’re gonnae be pissed off!”
Apocryphal? Surely. But wrong? Not by much. The goal roused Brazil, as did a half-time barney in their dressing-room when Zico, who had equalised after 33 minutes with a sublime free-kick, threatened to walk off unless Sócrates, Falcão and Cerezo worked a bit harder in midfield and helped him deal with John Robertson and Asa Hartford on Brazil’s right flank.
They talked it over, sorted it out and flew out of the tunnel for the second half. Oscar gave them the lead from a corner kick after 48 minutes and then Éder scored one of the goals of the tournament with the deftest of chips that floated serenely over Alan Rough and into the top corner. Falcão put the icing on the cake a few moments from the end with a perfectly placed daisy cutter from 25 yards out.
The game had kicked off in an 80-degree heat that had dissipated only slightly by the time the referee blew his whistle shortly before 11 o’clock that Friday night. The players were exhausted and dehydrated. But for Narey and three others the ordeal was just beginning. Scotland’s goalscorer was one of those selected to give a urine sample for the anti-doping test, so a few minutes after the final whistle went the players dragged themselves into a little room under the stand and concentrated desperately on taking a leak.
Scottish players have always been known for their love of the bevvy but Sócrates put them all to shame. He began drinking in his early teens, mainly because it was the done thing in Ribeirão Preto, the blisteringly hot town where he grew up and where everyone drank weak lager to cool down and hydrate.
It didn’t take him long, however, to realise that beer helped him overcome his terrible shyness. By the end of his teens he was famous for the huge amounts of lager he could put away and even a promising career as a footballer did not stop him from chugging back large quantities of beer almost every day of the week.
It had little effect in 1982. All but two of Brazil’s outfield players were aged between 25 and 29, meaning they were at their physical peak. Sócrates and Falcão were 28, Junior and Cerezo were 27, and Zico was 29. They all knew that this was their best shot of winning the World Cup and none more than Sócrates, who earlier in the year decided he was going to curb his vices and take the tournament seriously.
He began a special training regime at his club Corinthians and forced himself through a pre-World Cup training camp that was so punishing he frequently threw up at the side of the pitch. He stuck at it, replacing excess fat with muscle, but it wasn’t fun and he missed the trusty companionship of a few cold ones after training. By the time he got to Spain he was in the best shape of his life, but he was thirsty and he didn’t care who knew it.
Sócrates’s drinking was well-known to his teammates and it eventually became famous to fans the world over. “I smoke, I drink and I think,” was one of his most famous quotes and he played up to his image.
Even today, when Scotland players recall the Brazil game they are as likely to mention Sócrates’s exploits in anti-doping as they are Narey’s famous toe-poke or the Brazilian goals, three of which were absolute peaches.
Alex McLeish was in the dressing-room when the players were called to give their samples and he has his own version of events. The big central defender was a second-half substitute that night and when the name Sócrates comes up the gregarious Glaswegian shifts into full raconteur mode.
“Sócrates was unbelievable, an Adonis of a guy, 6’4” or something but a majestic footballer,” McLeish told an audience who gathered in April to hear him talk to Graham Hunter for his Big Interview podcast. “Even the way he walked down the street was brilliant.
“After we played them and we got a doing in Seville, the 4-1 game (with the) Davey Narey goal, and after the game Gordon Strachan and John Robertson were in the drugs testing.
“I don’t know what it is about Scots but we cannae seem to do a piss… So Gordon and John Robertson are there and he says they cannae dae a piss and they’re ages in there and they’re drinking water and we’re trying to discuss how the Brazilians are better than us.”
McLeish’s accent grows stronger as he warms to the clichés of pasty-faced Scots and lithe, languid Brazilians.
“Gordon says, ‘I am sitting there with my wee white skin and I am hiding my nipples’ and Robbo is saying, ‘Maybe it’s because we like a bevvy and I like a smoke now and again.’ And Gordon says, ‘Aye but it’s just the way these guys are made, it’s their bodies, it’s the rhythm, it’s that, but I guess you’re right Robbo, there’s a bit of that as well.’ And as they said that Sócrates walks in with his wee speedos on, big long legs, beautiful athlete, curly hair – and he had a fag in his hand. He had a fag in his hand and two bottles of beer in two fingers. He gives it that. Guzzles a beer. Pssssssssssssssssss. Finished. No problem. And Gordon and Robbo are like that, Fucking hell! And Sócrates says to the two of them. ‘You play a good game. Goodbye.’ Unbelievable.”
You can almost hear the smile spreading across McLeish’s face.
Marcel Proust said that memory is imagination. As time goes by and our lives change we recall not what happened but what we thought happened. Memory of a particular moment is merely regret, Proust said, or perhaps what Brazilians call saudades, an emotional mix of regret and longing.
Football, of course, is all about memory, both real and imagined. For without the recollections of games or goals or shared experiences, why keep watching?
When you think back, the passes are crisper, the tackles are cleaner and the goals are greater. The craic beforehand and the camaraderie on the terraces has a greater meaning. The grass is greener and the sun is warmer.
It’s not that you forget the cold or the rain, much less the anger or the disappointment. They’re simply not as powerful in hindsight. The aperture of our mind closes, just enough to leave the central image but crop the blurry details that surround it. Time amplifies happiness and diminishes despair.
It’s harder to forget today’s football because it is recorded – almost literally – from every angle. But things were simpler in 1982.
Fifa produce a written report of every game played in the World Cup but the document is only part of the official record. After each game, match observers answer questions about what they saw, what they thought of the referee’s performance and how the players conducted themselves. Some of those old match reports remain in Fifa’s vaults in Zurich but some of the details have been lost to time and the archive is today incomplete.
The unpublished two-page report for the Brazil-Scotland game is one of those that still survives and it is wonderfully idiosyncratic. The observer was a Spanish-speaker and seemed to be either unfamiliar with the players or adopted a hard-line practice of calling them by the names on their birth certificates.
So Brazil’s first goal was credited not to Zico but to Arthur, with José, Eder and Roberto getting the others. Scotland’s two substitutions were given as Kenny x Gordon and Alex x Asa. One of the questions posed was, “Does the referee look and act the part?” “Sí,” the monitor responded. Another asked, “Was it easy to referee this game?” “No,” was the one-word reply.
The team sheets are missing so the only other relevant information is the names of the four players who were chosen for the anti-doping tests. At the end of the first page, written in block capitals with blue ballpoint pen, are the names 6 Miller and 14 Narey.
Willie Miller can remember being taken to a small room under the stands. It looked a bit like a doctor’s surgery, with a desk or two and some chairs lining the walls. There was a medic and a team rep. When the Aberdeen captain walked in, Sócrates was already sitting there.
“We were taken into the sample room but we had just played at 3pm, 125 degrees, something like that, so it took me about an hour,” Miller told the Off the Ball podcast on BBC Scotland. “So anyways they says, ‘Do you want a drink?’ And of course, I’m the Scotsman, he’s the Brazilian. So they brought in a packet of 20 fags and a crate of beer and a crate of coke. Who was the beer and fags for? It’s got to be the Scotsman. No, it was for the Brazilian. It was for Sócrates. He sat there and he wolfed down about a dozen little bottles of San Miguel and 20 fags.”
Memory comes and goes but mostly it goes. Remembering what happened 35 years ago is never easy, even if the occasion was unforgettable. When Miller is pressed to remember more he comes up with some choice recollections. “I remember we’d been humped 4-1 so I wasn’t as if I was doing the highland fling with joy and I didn’t want to spend too much time with the enemy in the yellow shirt,” he told me.
“Sócrates was there. We didn’t talk a great deal but we did have a conversation. I am sure he talked about being in Glasgow. And I am sure I got his top. He’ll probably have my Scotland top on his wall somewhere.”
Sócrates had never been to Glasgow and Graeme Souness got his shirt. The details, though, are irrelevant when compared to Miller’s conclusion. He won 65 caps and led one of the greatest Scottish club sides of all time but what he most remembers about Seville was a feeling as well as a fact – just what it’s like to rub shoulders with greatness.
"The 1982 Brazil team were one of the best teams never to win the World Cup,” said Miller. “We knew we weren’t their equals. They were footballing gods.”
The Brazilian who sat alongside Sócrates that night was Luizinho. The 23-year old Atletico Mineiro defender was in awe of his captain, a man who commanded respect from all who played under him. Like Bobby Moore or Billy McNeil, Sócrates didn’t shout or shake his fist or charge about the field. He led calmly, by example. No one questioned his authority.
Off the field, though, Sócrates was the first man at the bar – George Best without the messiness – and when they walked into the anti-doping room Luizinho knew what to expect. “There was a lot of beer and he wanted to drink a lot more,” he said from his home city of Belo Horizonte. "He was definitely taking his time because he wanted to enjoy his beer. It took me 15 or 20 minutes. I waited for him but I could see that he was enjoying himself and wanted to stretch it out. So I was done and eventually I decided to leave him.”
Luizinho got the coach back to the Hotel Parador de Carmona, the 14th-century former Arab fortress where Brazil were based for the first round of the tournament. The rest of the team knew that Sócrates was going to make his own special reunion last as long as he could and manager Telé Santana asked his journalist friend Juca Kfouri if he wouldn’t mind driving him back when he was finished. So when Sócrates had done his business he poured himself into the front seat of Kfouri’s rental car and snored all the way home.
Before that, though, he still had to fill a little container with urine. He managed, needless to say. But the final words to this story must lie with the man himself. Brazil’s captain loved a good session more than just about anything and this one, coming after months of self-imposed drought, was so memorable that he felt compelled to register it, both immediately after it happened and then again decades later.
Sócrates spent part of his time in Spain writing a daily diary for the Brazilian sports magazine Placar. Each day he would jot down his thoughts on hotel stationery or rip a page from a reporter’s notebook and scribble some words for Kfouri, the magazine editor and his close friend.
His record of what happened after the Scotland game is revealing because it was so fresh. “I was there for two hours trying to do a pee for the anti-doping,” he wrote on June 18. “I drank about ten beers and champagne.” Sócrates admitted he was tipsy by the time he had finished downing what he gleefully termed “celebratory diuretics”.
But drinkers are like fishermen and the tales always get taller in the retelling. Sócrates never hid his fondness for alcohol and he took a perverse delight in scandalising those who criticised him for it. In his unpublished memoir, written in the early 2000s, those few hours with David Narey and Willie Miller got special attention.
"I changed quickly and ran over to the assigned room,” he wrote. “I knew that I would take a long time because I had lost a lot of liquid and the heat was killing. There were four of us. They asked me what I liked to drink. A good old beer, of course.
“When the guy opened the fridge I tried to hide my smile,” he said with a characteristically mischievous flourish. “It was filled with all kinds of drinks. It was beautiful! I was drinking my second can of beer when I realised that the others had already completed their mission. And I didn’t feel at all ready. To be honest, I didn’t want it to end. I drank all the beer they had and then I moved on to champagne. And still nothing. Wine, nothing. Soft drinks, nothing. It was only almost three hours later that they got their sample. When I left the stadium the rest of the team had already gone but I was the happiest of men.”
“It was,” he concluded, “one of the best days of my life.”