In Lamine Yamal’s home town, Spain’s Euro 2024 heroics stop everything


Rocafonda is where Lamine Yamal grew up and where much of his family still lives. The connections are everywhere.

Outside a small bakery, until very recently run by one of his 23 cousins and his uncle Abdul, there is a painted mural of Yamal in a Barcelona shirt, surrounded by the flags of Morocco (his father’s country of origin), Equatorial Guinea (his mother’s) and Spain, where he was born.

Rocafonda is a neighbourhood that forms part of Mataro — a town of about 120,000 inhabitants roughly 40 minutes up the coast from Barcelona. It sits in a privileged position geographically — with its views out to the Mediterranean — but is a humble neighbourhood in the middle of a region of richer cities.

There is a mix of cultures here. At El Cordobes, a local cafe with an Andalusian flair, the decor imitates the typical patios of Cordoba; white tiles with blue borders and windows filled with colourful flowers. Hanging in pride of place is a framed Yamal Barca shirt.

The bar’s owner, Juan Carlos Serrano, opened it 30 years ago, and for the past 10 years, Yamal’s father, Mounir Nasraoui, has been a regular.

“We met in the neighbourhood,” Serrano says. “We all know each other here. I used to see Mounir take Lamine to play football all the time, from when he was about six years old. He always brought sandwiches that his grandmother made for him. He is very attached to his grandmother.

“We always said Yamal would make it but to have this weight (of pressure) with Barca and the national team at just 16 years old — we didn’t see that coming. He is a special boy, an example for all the children in this neighbourhood.”

The mural of Yamal outside the Panaderia Arabica bakery in Rocafonda (Laia Cervello Herrero/The Athletic)

When Serrano and Nasraoui met, their circumstances were very different. Yamal’s family sometimes couldn’t afford a train fare and Serrano helped them. Now that the Barcelona forward’s profile has exploded and he is known everywhere as one of football’s brightest stars, his father has been keen to repay old favours.

Serrano says he and Nasraoui are now like brothers, that they spoke that very morning before he left to travel to Stuttgart to watch his son play in Spain’s Euro 2024 quarter-final with Germany.

Today is matchday and kick-off is approaching. The streets are beginning to empty and by the local municipal football ground, children start going home as 6pm approaches.

Yamal started out on the concrete pitch next door. Here, there’s another connection: huge graffiti of the No 304. It refers to the local postcode: 08304. When Yamal celebrates his Barca goals, he makes a gesture in reference to the code, a symbol of identity, of belonging.

Yamal’s ‘304’ celebration with Barcelona in March (Lluis Gene/AFP via Getty Images)

A nearby bar is filling up with Spain shirts, gathering around a TV installed high in a corner. When the camera focuses on Yamal, a middle-aged man exclaims: “Today Lamine gives us victory — you’ll see!”

Walking the streets earlier in the day, two fans are seen wearing his name on their backs, children between seven and 10 years old. Judging by what people are wearing in the bar, the older generation still seems to favour different players, such as captain Alvaro Morata.

“Lamine’s explosion caught us by surprise,” one man says. “We weren’t prepared yet. He’s so young.”

But every time Yamal touches the ball or has a chance, the bar stands up in expectation and excitement. Tensions are running high. With Germany growing into the game, some fans leave their table and end up pacing by the terrace, smoking anxiously.

In the 51st minute, when Dani Olmo scores with an assist from Yamal, the place goes wild. Everyone hugs each other while the waiters try to make sure no glass of beer ends up on the floor. The people on the terrace all rush in to celebrate while a guy in his 40s shrieks with excitement.

“It was Lamine! Our boy!”

Someone corrects him, telling him that the goal was Olmo’s.

“But look what a pass Lamine gave him!”

A round of beers to celebrate Spain’s goal.

Spain v Germany watched nervously in Rocafonda (Laia Cervello Herrero/The Athletic)

Ten minutes later, Yamal is replaced by his Barcelona team-mate Ferran Torres. “They changed him for Ferran? Really?” one of the fans says disapprovingly. This coincides with Germany starting to push Spain a little harder.

“I don’t like this one bit,” says another, with a suspicious look on his face as he leans against the bar.

What came next was a total rollercoaster ride, from outright pessimism after Florian Wirtz’s 89th-minute equaliser — “that’s how you lose games” — to absolute ecstasy with Mikel Merino’s winner in extra time. There was even applause for Real Madrid right-back Dani Carvajal when he was sent off after getting a second yellow card for a professional foul.

Spain are in the semi-finals and Yamal will be in the limelight for another day. The residents of Rocafonda go out into the streets to enjoy Friday night, while the children return to play football again on the concrete pitch.

The concrete pitch in Rocafonda where Yamal started playing football (Laia Cervello Herrero/The Athletic)

There are comments about Yamal bringing the European Championship to Spain, while others drive by in their cars, honking their horns in celebration of the victory.

A couple of men leave their house with a Spanish flag to go to dinner at a local bar that specialises in hot dogs.

“Today, it’s dinner at the Frankfurt,” they say with a mischievous smile. “I don’t know if we’re going to win the Euros but nobody’s going to take this away from us now.”

The sun is beginning to set over the Mediterranean Sea. The neighbourhood is back to its usual bustle — and proud as ever of its prodigal son.

(Top photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

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