This article was first featured in Issue 6 of the Box To Box magazine on the Assorted History of the World Cup with an excerpt from Andrew Downie‘s book, Doctor Sócrates and accompanying illustration from Federico Manasse.
The 1986 World Cup was originally planned for Colombia but it was moved to Mexico in 1983 after financial and political problems forced the Colombians to with-draw. However, in the early hours of the 19th of September 1985 the tournament’s future was thrown into jeopardy once more when a massive earthquake rocked Mexico City. At least 10,000 people died and large parts of the city were destroyed, and even though the Mexican government insisted the tournament would go ahead as planned, there was widespread concern over whether it was right to spend money on football while hundreds of thousands of homeless and hungry people were still trying to put their lives back together.
Brazil arrived in Mexico City eight months later but the damage was still extensive, and as he drove in from the airport Sócrates could not have missed the flattened buildings, the rubble-strewn lots and the pavements that rose and fell like waves. Sócrates felt an instant solidarity with the Mexican people and he wanted to make some sort of statement.
He tossed ideas over in his head but couldn’t quite work out what to do. Then one night, as he lay on his bed flicking through the Mexican TV channels, a little girl in a tiara appeared on the screen in front of him. It was a eureka moment and he scribbled a few words on a sock and wrapped it around his head to see what it looked like. The prototype was good enough and the next day he went in search of someone who could make a proper headband with his message on it.
The slogan he chose for the opening match against Spain was: ‘México, Sigue en Pie’, or ‘Mexico, Stand Tall’, and the Mexicans appreciated his gesture of solidarity. His team-mates, however, were none the wiser. He hadn’t told anyone what he planned to do, not Zico, not captain Edinho, not even best mate Casagrande, and he slipped the headband on as he was walking up the tunnel.
The photographs of Sócrates with the headband below his unkempt mane of hair would become one of the most iconic images in World Cup history. The picture of his face, scowling slightly through his trademark beard, was reminiscent of the famous photo of Che Guevara and it became one of the enduring images of an already photogenic career. The scowl was down to the screw-up that almost delayed the start of their opener and threatened to ruin the impact he wanted to make.
Sócrates knew that the cameras would be focused on him while the national anthem played and that his statement would make headlines. But after a long wait for the music to begin, organisers played the wrong tune, the ‘Anthem to the Brazilian Flag’, a song that almost none of the players recognised. Sócrates quickly realised what was happening and he was furious. Hearing the national anthem before every game inspired him and, robbed of that pleasure, he shook his head with irritation and didn’t even wait for the recording to finish. The Brazil players broke off prematurely and ran to warm up as the martial strains crackled away through the tannoys overhead. It was an inauspicious start to his last World Cup.