Soccer afternoon – Levante-EMV

On September 28, 1975 there was a match at the Sardinero. Racing Santander faced Elche. First division in the league championship. A normal Sunday afternoon. The football party. As always. Before and now. Players jump onto the grass. The applause. The screams of the fans. Racing wears white, with green details. The photograph of that afternoon is in the newspaper archives. In the front line are Aitor Aguirre and Sergio Manzanera. A Basque and a Valencian. Nobody notices a seemingly insignificant detail. The two footballers wear two black shoelaces on their left arms. George Harrison says that the screams of the public who attended his concerts drowned out the music they made on stage. On the afternoon of September 28, 1975, the shouts from the stadium extinguished the bittersweet smile of the two footballers. The best thing about the human thing is to feel that what you do is worth it, even if what you do is mainly inside, as the silence runs through the fiery songs of the abominable. That afternoon, the black laces on Aitor and Sergio’s shirts told the Sardinero audience to be silent, even for a second, even if an impossible dream lasts, like almost all dreams: almost nothing.

The match ended two to one in favor of Racing. At half-time, two police officers forced them to remove their shoelaces and threatened not to go out to play the second half. Finally they did come out. Then a fine of three hundred thousand pesetas was imposed on them. A fortune by then. A fortune, too, according to what people right now. They had to face accounts with the justice. The decision of two footballers that many people thought was bizarre, useless, something to be noticed, although in the Sardinero no one realized that Sergio and Aitor’s left arms wore mourning. That gesture that grants life a nobility that repaired the verses of García Lorca in Poeta en Nueva York: “life is not good, nor noble, nor sacred.” Sometimes it is, sometimes life is good, it is noble, it is sacred. That September afternoon, two first division footballers made possible what the poet denied: that life was not shit.

Soccer has a reputation for not committing itself to the causes that people care about. Very few footballers go out to defend these causes. At the Mestalla, a Dutch Valencia coach, Guus Hiddink, had a banner that had been unfolded in favor of Nazism removed from the stands. A match between Valencia and Albacete in 1992. Can anyone imagine that now in a football stadium? Little more than a teenager, Sergio Manzanera started playing soccer for Levante and then moved on to Valencia. At the age of 27 he retired playing with Racing. He was studying medicine. Today he is a dentist and I don’t know how he will live, so many years later, that afternoon with black laces in the Racing field. I live it with the emotion and the gratitude that Aitor Aguirre and himself deserve. The human became bigger, more human, that September 28, 1975.

The day before, a tragic September 27, 1975, the Franco regime murdered five young anti-Franco militants. Jon Paredes Txiki and Ángel Otaegui, from ETA. And José Luis Sánchez Bravo, Ramón García Sanz and José Humberto Baena Alonso, from the FRAP. I speak of murder and not of execution because the Franco regime trials were a shambles, without procedural guarantees, with the sentences already set at the same time as the police arrests. They were the last murders of the dictatorship. The dictator died two months later. He died as he had lived: killing. And there are still people who applaud that life, who consider its time of ignominy as the best that this country has lived in its entire history.

For my personal story, I’ll stick with that afternoon at the Sardinero. With those two young people who without saying anything to anyone dressed the football party in a duel. The times were not for jokes. The beast roars louder when it sees that its time is coming. But Aitor Aguirre and Sergio Manzanera wrapped black cords around their arms against the roars of the beast. They must have been afraid, how could they not. But, as in Mario Benedetti’s poem that I have quoted so many times, they turned fear into courage. That is why they have never left my memory. And I hope I meet Sergio one day and I can give him the hug that I owe him – that so many people owe him – since that unforgettable September 28, 1975. Here goes, for now, this Sunday column that is like that hug. Here it goes.