World-Manolo sacrifices all for his bombo

Updated: June 12, 2006, 10:06 PM ET
Reuters

By Simon Baskett

KAMEN, Germany, June 13 - Although fans swearing undying loyalty to their World Cup teams are scattered all over Germany, few have dedicated their lives so wholeheartedly to their side as "Manolo el del bombo".

Wearing his enormous Basque beret, red football shirt emblazoned with the number 12 and beating out an incessant rhythm on his 'bombo' (drum), Spain's number one fan has become a national institution.

A veteran of seven World Cups, Manuel Caceres has sacrificed his family and financial security in order to follow a side that has, as yet, won nothing.

"It all started around 38 years ago," Manolo told Reuters in an interview. "I used to take the 'bombo' to support second division sides like Huesca and Barbastro.

"The people enjoyed it, the players appreciated it too and so around 1978 I decided to do it for the national team. Because of it I've ended up losing my family, my business, in fact I've lost everything.

"I had four children but I used to leave the family to go on trips with the national team.

"One day in 1987 I was on my way to a Spain match and my car skidded on some ice and crashed into a ditch. I ended up in hospital for four days but I recovered and went on to Austria to watch Spain play.

"When I came back my family had gone, they had all left home."

However, he remains philosophical and says he has been compensated by the friends he has made by playing the 'bombo'. "I lost the love of my family but in exchange I gained the love of everyone else," he says. "Obviously losing your family like that is a bad thing to do but not as bad as if I had gone off with another woman.

"I suppose football is my mistress. I've swapped everything for football but I wouldn't give it up for anything in the world. I'm a bit like a Spanish ambassador and I love the job."

BAR OWNER

Following Spain around the globe also has financial penalties for the 57-year-old bar owner.

"Whenever I'm away I close my business, a bar next to the Valencia stadium. I don't like it to be open when I'm not there and that means I lose a lot of money.

"Some people think I get paid by the Federation to go on these trips but I'm paying my own way in the World Cup apart from the plane trip.

"In my first World Cup in Spain in 1982 I hitch-hiked 15,800 kilometres around the country to follow the national team. People always offer me food and drinks and as my only vice is football then I only spend the minimum.

"I was able to afford the trip this time because I did a couple of adverts and that gave me a bit of money but I'm the sort of person who is willing to earn less money as long as they are happy.

"Being healthy and enjoying yourself are the two most important things in life. The other most important thing is to help other people enjoy themselves and that's what I do." Manolo says he has got through nine or 10 bombos in his career.

"I lost one in Costa Rica, I gave one away in Venezuela and others just wear out," he said.

"I've never been to a game without it although I came pretty close when a few yobs made off with it from the back of the coach when Spain played in Bosnia a couple of years ago.

"But luckily they threw it in a bin and I got it back before the game."

His ambition is to attend five more World Cups before he finally decides to hang up his 'bombo'.

"My aim is to retire after I've done 12 World Cups which will make me 77, that is if Spain qualify for them all. I'll be there even if I have to go with my walking stick."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index