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Row 0, Seat 0: When Spanish football came together for the player who slept

Dear Friend,

You won’t be able to read this letter. For the past three years, you haven’t been able to read anything. For the past three years, you have had a son you haven’t even been able to get to know.

Unless God works some miracle —you will never read these things, kiss your son, watch the swallows at sunset, or feel the rain on your face on an afternoon of football.

I have to confess to having a lump in my throat, and I would give anything to have not begun to write this. I have to admit that my longing for life is so overwhelming that thinking of you pains me greatly. …

From World Series to the waste bin: The extraordinary rise and fall of Leganés president Jeff Luhnow

The baseball men sat there, silently seething.

In front of them stood a man in his early sixties with thinning, grey hair with a sketch pad in hand. Behind him was a screen with the lecture title: “Classic Mechanics: A Throwing Model Based on the Construction of the Motions of Great Historic Pitchers.”

The man flicked through his illustrations of some of the great pitchers of baseball past in a vain attempt to convince the baseball men that the mechanics of modern-day pitchers could be fine-tuned for efficiency and, crucially, to avoid injury.

When the man who could organise anything nearly met his match: Raimundo Saporta and the 1982 World Cup

He was the man who could organise anything. The man on top of every little detail. That’s why they put him in charge of this.

He was the man who changed the course of Spanish football history by signing Alfredo Di Stéfano for Real Madrid from under the noses of Barcelona. The man who then helped add Paco Gento, Raymond Kopa, José Santamaría and Ferenc Puskás to the squad.

He was the man who, not satisfied with creating the greatest Real Madrid side of all time, then helped launch the competition that later defined them — the European Cup.…

El Centenariazo: The night Super Depor gatecrashed the biggest birthday party of all time – and even stole their dinner reservation

Preparations at Asador Donostiarra on Madrid’s Calle de la Infanta Mercedes were in full swing. The labyrinth of dining rooms buzzed as an army of waiters frantically buffed cutlery and polished glasses; sommeliers double checked there were enough bottles of cava on ice and enough reserva for later; while the chefs decided it was about time to light the charcoal under those famous grills.

The restaurant had been selected to host the feast for the biggest birthday party the city had ever seen. …

Carmen: How Celta Vigo’s Wonder Woman helped change the face of Galicia

A woman hurries her youngest son through Vigo’s Casco Vello on their way to the city’s main market. As she looks up, she notices a man staring at her as he smokes in the doorway of the bar he owns and the pair lock eyes.

The woman feels her legs begin to tremble as her mind races with a thousand urgent thoughts before one imperative emerges: she must not be the one to look away.

She steels herself as she draws closer. Then, just as she approaches the bar’s terrace, the man drops his gaze to the ground and stubs out his cigarette.…

Testicle tugging and gallivanting goalkeepers: When the cream of Colombia came to Real Valladolid

“Independent of the mistake, he’s brilliant — fundamental and decisive.”

He’d said pretty much the exact words a month previous, in the heat of Naples, where he backed his goalkeeper, René Higuita, after the error that would become one of the iconic vignettes in World Cup history. Positioned a lot closer to the halfway line than his own goal, Higuita attempted to remedy an imperfect first touch by dragging the ball away from the incoming Roger Milla with his studs. Milla stole the ball and raced away towards the empty goal, then to the corner flag.…

La Quinta del Reboot: When the Vulture Squad descended on Mexico

“To suddenly call up a Real Madrid player and ask them to come to your club, when you’re still in the second division — well you have to be a dreamer.”

In the summer of 1995, when the Real Madrid office staff told Emilio Butragueño to expect a call at home from a Mexican club, he presumed when the phone rang he would be talking to the owner of Club América or maybe Cruz Azul. But the accent on the other end of the line was Asturian not Mexican and he declared himself to be the owner of a club that Butragueño had never heard of.…

‘Paz olímpica’ : How the Barcelona Olympics brought gold and a brief moment of unity to Spanish football

As he climbed to his feet, detaching himself from the celebratory heap of bodies below, Pep Guardiola could see his prediction been wrong. “I’m confident there will be about 60,000 there, but filling it is impossible.”

He’d seen it packed before, of course. But this was different, surreal even. The entirety of the 95,000 crowd inside Camp Nou was on its feet, with seemingly every other person twirling a Spanish flag in celebration.…

Pig farming, fleeing presidents and Helenio Herrera’s underpants: The bizarre story of Johan Cruyff’s spell at Levante

The shrill ring of a telephone breaks the mid-morning silence in a trendy Amsterdam apartment. Enjoying a restorative lie in after a nasty bout of flu, a woman climbs out of bed, wearily ruffles her blonde, bobbed hair and pads through to the living room to pick up the phone.


“Sorry, he’s not here right now. He’s gone to a meeting at Ajax.”

Talent, tantrums and tragedy: The story of Canito — once the future of Barça but forever Espanyol

He didn’t particularly like the comparisons with John Travolta but stood there at his presentation, tall and handsome, in an immaculate white jacket and plunging, open-necked shirt, you could see why they made them. He was certainly no stranger to the nightclubs — a regular at the iconic Bocaccio on Carrer Muntaner, always impeccably dressed and generous company to be in.

“Rafa no me jodas,” — the human side of the celebrity linesman

Robinson was poignantly remembered as the programme began the new season by looking back over its three decades. As the montages relived moments from the annals of the show, one occasion inevitably featured. A remarkable interaction between a referee and his linesman captured by the Canal+ microphones that would forever be known by a phrase that was never actually said. One that changed the life of one of the protagonists forever. …

“I fell for the club in a really big way” — Howard Kendall’s love affair with Athletic Club Bilbao

The ink was barely dry on Howard Kendall’s two-year contract to coach Athletic Club Bilbao but he was regretting the decision already. “I honestly thought I’d made the biggest mistake of my life.”

His new club had flown him out to watch the 1987 Copa del Rey Final between Atlético Madrid and Real Sociedad in Zaragoza. Kendall found it almost impossible to concentrate on the game …

From video shop assistant to Maradona’s agent: Elche owner Christian Bragarnik’s eventful rise to power

Leyland Video Club, close to the intersection of Yerbal and Avenida Boyacá in the Buenos Aires barrio of Flores was a fairly typical neighbourhood video store. Members would pop in, browse the rows of latest releases and take their choice to the counter. A chunky VHS tape was snapped into a generic branded case, the customer paid and went home to enjoy their selection.…

The strength behind Julen Lopetegui

The beginning had been warm and emotional. The end, though expected, was cold and brutal.

Julen Lopetegui’s unveiling as Real Madrid manager had been a poignant affair. “If yesterday was the saddest day of my life, since the death of my mother,” he said, choking back tears, “then today is the happiest”. Madrid and their president, Florentino Perez, put their arm around him — figuratively and literally — welcoming Lopetegui ‘home’.…

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