MANOLO EL DEL BOMBO THE DRUMMER
Spain's most famous fan travels with the players and mingles with royalty, but fame has cost him his family and reputation. Manolo el del Bombo has been accused of being a freeloader by some because the Spanish federation pays for him to travel with the players.
"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.
Not just a fan, the fan, better known as Manolo el del Bombo: Manolo, the one with the drum. With the drum, the beret and the pre-match routine, with the bar that faces Valencia's Mestalla stadium. Manolo does not drink and he does not smoke but his bar does embrace his other vice. Manolo's, "your football museum", is plastered with cuttings of him, drums hang from the ceiling alongside football shaped lamps, and there are photos everywhere: Manolo and the World Cup, Manolo and the King and Queen of Spain, Manolo and three decades of Spain players.
Fans don't get much more famous. Manolo 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. He doesn't see them much now. But then, he insists: "This is my place."
"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 covered 16,000km in '82. I had no money, people rejected me. But I never gave up and now they have embraced me.
"One day, my family left me." Why? "Because I had pretty much abandoned them. Because I was always with Spain."
Sometimes he was the only one. "The way Spain play now has mobilised people," he says. "I look back 25 years and I would be in a stadium with 20 supporters or even up in the stands on my own. I banged the drum for no one. Except the players. Now, it's completely different."
When a plaque was handed over to King Juan Carlos on behalf of all of Spain's football fans, Manolo was the obvious choice to make the presentation. In South Africa, he looked up to the royal box to find Prince Felipe of Asturias, Spain's heir to the throne, beckoning for him to come and say hello. Now, he's part of the official delegation: when the bus arrives at Spain's training camp in the morning, he is among the federation staff. Players greet him. Television cameras pick him out. Spain pay for him to travel with them.
"At first, I had a pretty bad time of it. But the players were grateful for the support and the president of the federation saw it as a good thing. Now I travel with them. They pay the flight, the hotels and the tickets. I pay for the food and all that. I am very grateful to be able to 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. But still people accused them. I paid for all of that, from the bar money and the adverts we do.
"There are some things that are sacred, though. I could put publicity on the drum and I would be able to charge a lot, but I won't do it. El bombo no se mancha. The drum doesn't stain."
In South Africa, Manolo was taken ill. Just when things were looking good, after 30 years of supporting Spain, it looked like he was going to miss out. He was forced to fly back with a flu that was agony. "I've had six hernias and when I started coughing it felt like my liver was coming up. It was desperately uncomfortable. The federation doctors treated me but it wasn't good. I had to come back to Spain.
"Luckily, I was able to get back to South Africa for the final. I only missed the Paraguay match. I was there for the semi-final against Germany and the final. My friends used to joke: you'll be back within 10 days. I thought I was going to die without seeing us being world champions, then I thought I might miss it happening at last. But I did get back to see Spain win the World Cup and bang my drum. And now I can die."