At noon the captain of the Span-. ish team went to Mass in the cathedral in the center of Seville. The cathedral is the largest in Spain, the tallest and most beautiful, and its paintings and stained-glass windows are admired by tourists from all over the world. In the streets outside—in the courtyards and alleyways—the sun was so hot that the flies appeared paralyzed and could be plucked from the air in mid-flight.
At the corner the man known as Est�ban, who, it was said, had been selling lottery tickets there since Columbus discovered America, had fallen asleep. Seville, the Andalusian jewel, was suspended in sweaty delirium. From the cool back rooms of cafes and from beneath the awnings and sunshades on the porch of the Hotel Alfonso XIII came the nervous murmur of people talking about soccer and the game that would take place that night between the Spanish and Argentine national soccer teams in the big Seville stadium.
Much of the talk was of the legendary Luis Suarez, who had been voted the best player on the Continent by Europe's top sportswriters, and how he had left his native Spain this spring and had gone to Italy to play for Milan after that team had offered him $75,000 a year. It was too bad he had left, they were saying, but who could blame him, at that price. He had come from a poor family in the northwest, and when the boy was 9 years old his parents had told him to stop playing soccer because he was wearing out his shoes too quickly. "Take a choice," his mother had said. "Either stop playing soccer or we will make you wear wooden shoes and you will be laughed at by everyone in town." So Luis had played soccer in wooden shoes every day till he was 18, when he was spotted by a scout for the Madrid team, Real. Now he was still in his 20s and one of the highest-priced athletes in the world. It was said that the first thing he did with his money was buy shoes, dozens of pairs, just to look at.
They spoke of Alfredo Di Stefano, the star center forward of Real Madrid, which is the best team in Europe and which won the Coupe de l' Europe five years running, till it was captured this year by the Portuguese team, Benfica. (Everyone knew, however, that that game was an accident, that the Spanish goalie had been blinded by the sun; next year Spain would be on top again.) Di Stefano was an Argentine boy who had been bought by Real in 1953 and was now the best player in Spain, with such speed, strength and control that he was called the Manolete of Spanish soccer. He lived in a mansion outside Madrid and refused to tell anyone either his age or his income, though the best guess was that he was 36 and earned more than $200,000 a year—making him one of the richest men in Spain. Tonight, Sunday, June 11, he would play for the Spanish national team against his countrymen, the Argentines.
They talked of Francisco Gento, another Real man and captain of the national squad, who at this minute was inside the cathedral. Gento was a superb player, not as good yet as Di Stefano or Suarez but with excellent promise and a marvelous personality. Gento was a crowd-pleaser and something of an actor, too, and who could help but love him? It was he who had made soccer popular with the women. Tonight he would play outside left for the nationals.
A crowd had assembled by the cathedral, sitting on the curb and steps—children and old men, young men with their girls, workers and peasants, each of these last wearing his one Sunday suit, his Sunday shoes and his Sunday shirt. They spoke together about soccer, punctuating their arguments with delicate stabs at the hot air with their fingers and with great, vacant shrugs. They carried newspapers opened to the sports pages, and held tickets and programs. The names Real, Barcelona, Suarez, Di Stefano, Gento fell from their mouths with hypnotic frequency.
The service ended, and Francisco Gento emerged, hesitating on the steps as the crowd rose and came toward him. "Gento," sighed the women. "Gento, Gento," murmured the men, not in wild excitement as would Italians or Frenchmen, but with the quiet awe that bespoke adoration. The crowd moved in; Francisco Gento patted the heads of the children and shook the hands of the men in benediction. "Gento," they whispered. "Espa�a, Espa�a" He moved slowly down the street, talking with the crowd around him and, five blocks away, disappeared into the Hotel Cristina. There, with 10 tense, perspiring teammates, he huddled over a blackboard plotting the attack on the visiting Argentines.
The crowd disbanded and, like the thousands of others who had come to Seville from all over Spain that weekend, people moved into the restaurants and caf�s to talk more and to eat and rest before the game. The streets were now deserted because of the heat. The ticket sellers had moved indoors. In the villages around Seville, roasting on the moonlike plains of Andalusia, fans squeezed into wagons, carriages and oxcarts for the long ride to the stadium, each carrying a small Spanish flag.
At the bullfight arena in town, the crowd sat silently through a poor corrida, and the matadors nodded angrily toward the empty seats. As the matadors and everyone else in Spain well knew, there is no corrida that can compete with a good soccer game, and the one that night would be good.
The importance of soccer in Spain and in Spanish life is a recent and startling phenomenon. The game is the national sport as well as the national distraction and dominates conversation in a way that bullfighting never has done. Like bullfighting, soccer has achieved a kind of mysticism and attracts the attention and time of professors, esthetes and intellectuals as well as the mass of Spanish citizens. Learned treatises are devoted to the art of the game; it has been seriously proposed that Spanish university students study soccer strategy as students once studied Napoleonic battle tactics. In bullfighting the Spaniards have found an expression for their sense of tragedy and bravery; in soccer they have found an expression for loyalty, duty, brotherhood. Each Sunday 600,000 of them watch soccer games somewhere in the country, a million more watch them during the rest of the week. Barcelona alone has four stadiums that hold 300,000 people, and at least 15 smaller playing fields. There are 3,600 stadiums in all Spain, far fewer bull rings. The best players, like the best matadors, are among the highest-paid citizens of the country.