1. UCD Legends Debunked: Sócrates

Debunking the intriguing claim that Sócrates played for the UCD Reserve team in the 1970s.

The origins of this long established urban legend are hazy. However, the basic ‘facts’ of the story are as follows: Sócrates, the famous Brazilian soccer player, studied medicine in Dublin in the late 1970s and during his time here played for the reserve team of University College Dublin (UCD).

There are many variations of the story with some placing Sócrates at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) or even the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI).

It’s a feel good anecdote that has been doing the rounds for at least three decades. The story is so quirky and original that most people take it at face value and it’s turned up as a question on many a table quiz.

An article in The Irish Times from 1986 is the earliest known reference to this alluring tale. It states as fact that Sócrates played for Shelbourne Football Club during his time studying in the “College of Technology, Kevin Street”. [1]

It should be said that Sócrates did indeed study medicine while in college but he graduated from the ‘Faculdade de Medicina de Ribeirão Preto’ in São Paulo.

In 2000, the urban legend was given a new breath of life after a question was sent into the Guardian’s soccer ‘Knowledge Department’. The newspaper was asked to investigate the claim that “Brazilian footballer Sócrates … spent some of his student years in Dublin … and (that) he only managed to make the UCD reserve team”. [2]

The question was answered by the late Brendan McKenna, former Football Association of Ireland (FAI) Press Officer, who confirmed that “Sócrates did play for UCD … sometime in the 70s.” and by Gerry Callan of The Irish Star who added that Sócrates played only for the reserves because he couldn’t make the first team’s Saturday games.

Sócrates in Fiorentina colours.

Sócrates in Fiorentina colours.

The Guardian gave the story yet more veracity in 2002 by incorporating new information from a reader that Sócrates quit the team after only “a couple of games because the coach and manager at the time, Dr Terry O’Neill, insisted that he quit smoking”. [3] The Mirror also ran a story on Sócrates during this time with the opening line, “Here’s one to stump your mates with. Which Brazilian legend played football for UCD reserves?”.[4]

The programme for the UCD – St. Patrick’s Athletic game in 2003 featured an article on the Sócrates tale.[5] It debunked the claim that he played for UCD but went on to allege that Sócrates studied medicine in the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland (RCSI) in 1976. The article also asserted that he went to the RCSI’s trials for their Collingwood Cup team but decided to concentrate on his studies instead after seeing the poor football abilities of his potential teammates.

The China Daily, an English Language newspaper published in the People’s Republic of China, ran an article in 2006 that described Sócrates as “an alumni of the College of Surgeons in Dublin”. [6]

The legend has recently been given new legs by the addition that Sócrates also won the Sigerson cup, the championship of Higher Education Gaelic football in Ireland. This allegation has been posted as fact on various Irish sport Internet forums.

The Sunday Tribune in 2006 did its best to sink the urban legend with the article “Will Sócrates Myth Ever Be Put To Bed?” [7] and in its 2008 Sports Trivia Christmas Quiz. [8] But with websites such as Footbo.com, still affirming that Sócrates “spent time in Ireland and turned out for the University College Dublin (UCD) team”[9] ; the legend isn’t going anywhere soon.

Belfield Park

Belfield Park (1971-2007)

Billy McGrath, who played first team soccer for UCD from 1973 to 1977 (and later for a short time with Pegasus, UCD’s graduate soccer team), can confirm that Sócrates never played for UCD – “At the time the UCD first team was playing in the League of Ireland B division so if he was playing for UCD – and not good enough for the first team – he would have been in the Leinster Senior League”. [10]

(But what would Billy know? He was probably too busy watching Pele play hurling for Na Fianna in Ballymun during the Brazilian’s time studying marketing in DCU in 1975-1977. The reality that the college did not exist at the time has no bearing on the facts.)

So there you go. Unfortunately, there is no basis whatsoever to the legend that Sócrates played for UCD and it is just too good to be true. Sócrates has himself admitted that he hasn’t even visited Dublin!

[1] Peter Byrne, “World Cup Stars Played in League”, The Irish Times, June 3 1986
[2] Sean Ingle, “Knowledge Unlimited”, The Guardian, 13 September 2000
[3]Sean Ingle and Scott Murray, “Shooting from the hip”, The Guardian 10 January 2002
[4] James Morgan, “The Great Philosopher; A doctor who smoked 20-a-day and led a player’s revolt, Socrates truly was the thinking man’s footballer.” The Mirror, May 27 2002
[5] http://foot.ie/forums/showpost.php?p=380588&postcount=28
[6] Anon, “Smoke on the bench not music to FIFA’s ears”, China Daily, June 15 2006
[7] Enda McEvoy and Kieran Shannon, “Will Socrates Myth Ever Be Put To Bed?, Sunday Tribune, April 16, 2006
[8] Enda McEvoy, “Enda McEvoy’s Really Cool Sports Trivia Quiz”, Sunday Tribune, December 21, 2008
[9] Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira Biography, http://www.footbo.com/Players/Socrates_Socrates/Biography (Accessed 15 June 2009)
[10] Billy McGrath, email to author, 15 June 2009


10 responses to “1. UCD Legends Debunked: Sócrates

  1. Nice one! Excellent article with good extensive research. Looking forward to more interesting hidden UCD stories in the near future…

  2. I wrote an article for a UCD AFC programme around 2003 which debunked both the UCD and RCSI stories. I had emailed Alex Bellos, who wrote “Futebol”, a wonderful account of the cultural significance of Brazilian football – he asked someone close to Socrates who confirmed he had never been to Ireland. I’ll try and dig it up and send it on to you…

  3. Senator JIMMY HARTE

    I played for UCD in League of Ireland “B” from 1978 to 1980 and in Collingwood Cup and never heard anything about a Brazilian in the soccer community there. Senator Jimmy Harte , Donegal

  4. I interviewed him in 2009 and he said he had never been to Ireland!

  5. My mate says he saw Socrates in Dublin for the 2000 St Partrick’s Day parade. Apparently he was ushered out on stage and did some keepy-uppy. Can anyone confirm this?

  6. rip socrates ❤

  7. Get a grip folks, not every great men had anything to do with Ireland. With the guy’s technical depth in the game at the time, I doubt football in Ireland could match his earlier skills not to talk of being a reserve player in UCD. What an aberration. Socrates never spoke English hence the insanity to insinuate he schooled in Ireland. All of a sudden, Moh’ Ali has Irish roots while the claim to Obama is itchy nitchy. Sooner we are going to hear of Osama being trained by the IRA

  8. yep lads, that’s really not true…
    I’m brazilian, former football player for several teams in Brasil. I went to Ireland in 2007 and played football (alongside Connor Sammom and other good players) for UCD (and later Pegasus, Crumlin UTD and the Brazilian team in Ireland, the EID FT) and when I came back to my country I had the honour to meet personally the legend Dr. Socrates. So, as everyone I would talk to when I was in Ireland would say I was playing for the the same team that Socrates played for, and I have never ever heard of anything like that in Brazil, I had to ask him. What he answered me was that: “I had never being to Ireland. How could I play for a team whithout beig there? By the way, how come so many people ask me the same question?”… I still do not know the answer to this question, but maybe he was Irish on his hearth! I know I am!

  9. Pingback: Socrates in the Botanic Gardens. « Come here to me!

  10. Pingback: 5 Of The Greatest Myths In Irish Sport Debunked Balls.ie

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