“I lost everything for football: my family, my business, my money, the lot. But I would do it all over again tomorrow. There is just nothing like representing your country.”
Manuel Cáceres Artesero is leaning against the bar at Spain’s training camp in Gniewino, northern Poland, wearing his official tracksuit. When he runs on to the pitch before games, he gets a huge cheer and people stop him in the street and ask for autographs and photos. But he is not a footballer. This is his seventh European Championship, he has been to eight World Cups, he appears in countless adverts and his opinion on the team is widely sought, but he is not an ex-footballer either. He is just a fan.
Better known as Manolo el del Bombo: Manolo, the one with the drum he has followed Spain everywhere and has come to symbolise the national team. Yet there is almost a quiet melancholy about him. Perhaps because he came back from one tournament to find that his wife and children had left him.
“It all started 40 years ago,” he says. "I was brought up in Huesca, which has a tradition of drums. One day I picked one up and started playing. I began supporting teams in Huesca, regional ones. My first Spain game abroad was in Cyprus in 1979 but the 1982 World Cup was when I really followed the national team and I have been here ever since. I used to hitchhike to games. I had no money, people rejected me. Now they have embraced me.”
Today he’s part of the official delegation. Spain pay for him to travel with them.
“Initially, the players were grateful for the support and the president of the federation saw it as a good thing. Now I travel with them. Sometimes people have a go at me, calling me a pesetero [money-grabber] or a freeloader. But it’s not true. In Austria at the last Euros, I did some adverts and I took a team of musicians with me. They didn’t get paid anything. They were away from home for a month, unpaid. I paid for all of that.”