Watching Socrates chat up my fiancée

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Manchester United’s victory may have brightened the outlook of the travelling fans in Milan last week, but the weather was atrocious in Milan. To avoid another soaking, I headed to the airport early hoping to get some work done and speak to Andrew Cole for his weekly column.

With a connection in Rome ahead of a flight to Sao Paulo to meet Socrates, everything was going to plan. Until I looked at the flight information and saw no flight. After checking my ticket, I was enveloped by a sinking felling. Milan has three airports and I’d gone to the wrong one.

Taxis in Milan are notoriously expensive. It’s £80 from Malpensa (the main airport) to the city centre, so I asked with some trepidation how much a taxi to the third airport in Bergamo would be.

“€150,” came the unanimous answer from a line of Mercedes taxi drivers who charge enough to wear Armani. Without enough time for a bus and an appointment with the bearded Brazilian the next day, I had no choice. Not that I deserved one for my schoolboy error.

Malpensa (Mitten not pictured, despite police dogs)

Cole travels more than anyone I know at the moment. He hasn’t stopped since retiring in November 2008 and he was on the way to Nigeria when we spoke – four days after coming back from Miami.

Vietnam, South Africa, Nigeria (again) and Malaysia have all been visited by the former striker in recent months. Whether it’s playing in vets teams or going as an ambassador, he’s loving life.

We did the column with me in the back of the taxi typing furiously as I got him to repeat lines about United smashing Milan all over the San Siro for the benefit of the Milan-supporting taxi driver.

I reached Sao Paulo 24 hours after setting off and tried to contact Socrates. He is a law until himself and we waited for almost a day before meeting the great man at a restaurant in the middle of the 15-million population megalopolis.

His explanation was simple: “It’s party time in Brazil and I was out with my old friend Zico at carnival until 9am.”

The Housemartins' Build was playing on the radio in the cab on the way there so I told the song's co-writer Paul Heaton. A Blade and proper football fanatic who hand-draws his own football books and collect shirts from around the world, Heaton requested Socrates’ autograph.

Sing When You're Winning: Paul Heaton interviewed

The interview was for GQ magazine and for the foreword on the imminently-published Rough Guide to Cult Football. Socrates may be brighter than the old Sheffield United away kit, but he only speaks Portuguese so my fiancée translated and omitted to tell him that she used to fancy his brother Rai – another former Brazil captain who is even better known in Brazil than Socrates.

"Ah, Mr Mitten. I've been expecting you"

Within minutes, Socrates was talking about Che, Fidel and John Lennon. Within hours, after procuring his opinions on democracy (he was a leader against Brazil’s military government), the two-step penalty, Brazil 82, his brother Rai and cult footballers, the father of six turned to the translator.

“You are a woman," he said. "I love the woman. I write poetry for the woman. Can I read you my poetry?” He then unfurled some handwritten notes, put his glasses on and recited seductive poetry. I would have considered lamping him, but he’s 6'3" (albeit with relatively little size eight feet). And it was his 56th birthday.

Socrates was born a star. The interview took five months to plan and arrange and he only agreed to do it if it was face to face. Yet it was worth it to see and hear the doctor who enriched so many lives, just as he enhances so many other in his practice in Sao Paulo state.

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