John Metcalfe On Facing Socrates

In the summer of 1988, Corinthian-Casuals goalkeeper John Metcalfe found himself tasked with keeping out a team of Brazilian legends as we took on a Corinthians Paulista XI that included World Cup winners Gilmar and Roberto Rivellino and was built around a 34-year-old Socrates. Broadway to Brazil co-host Dominic Bliss caught up with the former Casuals custodian to relive the game of his life…

Most goalkeepers would rather not be reminded of the time they were audaciously chipped from the edge of the box, but John Metcalfe’s story isn’t a typical one for a former non-league stopper.

Metcalfe was part of the Corinthian-Casuals squad that visited Brazil at the end of the 1987/88 season. We were invited to Sao Paulo in order to celebrate the centenary of Sao Paulo Athletic Club, who the original Corinthian FC had played during the club’s first-ever tour of Brazil back in 1910. 

The performances of the famed English amateurs during that tour had inspired local railway workers to form their own club, which they named Sport Club Corinthians Paulista in honour of the team whose skills they so admired, little knowing that the new Brazilian Corinthians would go on to become one of the biggest teams in South American football.

As our club stuck to its amateur ethos in the face of the burgeoning professional game, we fell away from the pinnacle of English football, while our brothers in Brazil rose to new heights, winning several major titles and developing a fanbase of millions. 

However, despite our diverging fortunes, the bond between the two clubs has remained unbreakable, and so it was that little old Corinthian-Casuals, who had finished bottom of the London Spartan League in the 1987/88 season, were invited to Brazil to take on a team featuring some of the greatest footballers in the history of the game.

“We only found out about the tour around Christmas time,” recalls Metcalfe, “so it certainly lightened up the season for us, because we were having an absolute shocker!

“I didn’t really know much about the history of the club at the time, so in the build up to the tour we had a meeting up in London and went through a load of stuff regarding the Corinthians and the Casuals, and the joining together, and the team that went out to Brazil prior to World War One.”

As much as the shared history between the clubs added to the magnitude of the occasion, the players were just as excited about visiting Brazil, although not all their preconceptions about the country were borne out by their experiences when they arrived.

“I thought, ‘Alright, I’ll top my tan up’, and I’d already got me some short sleeve shirts, expecting it to be about 70, 80 degrees,” recalls Metcalfe. “And when we got there, it was pigging freezing! The people in Sao Paulo were all wearing jackets and scarves, and we turn up in blazers and shirts expecting it to be warm!

“Our actual hotel was on a six-lane dual carriageway, so it was quite noisy – it wasn’t what I expected of Brazil – we’d all seen pictures of Rio… but Sao Paulo is nothing like Rio!”

After that early shock to the system, it quickly became apparent that this was a trip of very special significance, not just to Corinthian-Casuals but to our hosts in Sao Paulo, and their supporters as well.

“Every day we were treated to something – we were taken to someone’s house for a barbecue every night, we were shown around Corinthians Paulista’s ground, it was superb.”

Of course, the highlight of the tour was the game against a Corinthians Legends XI, giving these Spartan League wooden spooners the opportunity to face Socrates, the man who had lit up the World Cup earlier a few years previously.

“Oh, he was an absolute legend,” says Metcalfe, “and on the morning of the game, he actually turned up at the hotel, dressed in a pair of jeans and a jacket, smoking a fag. We’re all suited and booted, ready to go off to the game, and he was just shaking hands with people as we came out from the hotel.”

If that first impression had left the Casuals players starstruck, Socrates’ performance on the pitch later that day had them awestruck.

“He just made so much space for himself,” Metcalfe explains. “He played one, two-touch football the whole time.

“And Rivellino! Rivellino was different class as well. He was up against our left-back, Ritchie Simpson, and he played a one-two off Ritchie’s chest, and then swivelled round him on the outside! It was being broadcast live on TV, and we went into a bar later, and they must have shown that one move 10 times on a cinema screen, time and time again!”

Metcalfe’s own humbling moment was delivered by Socrates himself. His long, languid frame, combined with his delicate touch and his incredible vision, made it impossible to take your eyes off him when he had the ball at his feet, and he moved with elegance and grace. To cap it all off, he had an eye for the audacious as well, as he proved when he looked up from the edge of the Casuals penalty area and spotted Metcalfe ever so slightly off his line. 

“He played a one two just outside the edge of the box, probably about 20 yards out,” says Metcalfe, taking up the story, “and I came out, anticipating a shot. 

“I’ve come about six yards off my line, and he just dinked it over me… and when you see it, he actually drops the ball over the top of my head, almost onto the goal line. He just saw me step forward and he just popped it right over the top of me.”

It proved to be the only goal of the game, but Casuals did come close to equalising on several occasions, not least after Socrates had swapped shirts for the last 17 minutes of the game so that he could represent the club that had inspired the founding of his beloved Corinthians. 

“Unfortunately, he couldn’t go up the other end and do the same to the other goalkeeper as he did to me,” Metcalfe chuckles. “But to be fair to us, to play against a team who, even though they were veterans, virtually all of them had been internationals, and just get beaten by the one goal was… well, it was a great result for us, especially after the season we’d had!”

So, is he secretly quite pleased that he was chipped by Socrates? Metcalfe pauses before answering that final question.

“If it was going to be anyone, I’d much rather it was him,” he responds, diplomatically.

Learn more about this remarkable story in Season 2 Episode 4 of Broadway to Brazil. Listen to ‘Socrates in Chocolate and Pink’ on the player below, on our Podcasts page, or on all podcast apps.