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The Tenerife media carried many stories recently concerning Eleuterio ‘Yeyo’ Santos, who died aged 67 at the end of January, from accounts by people who saw him play for Tenerife in the late 50s and Zaragoza in the 60s to stories of his passion for the game at youth level during his years in charge of Tenerife’s junior sides.
- Locals will probably not be aware of Yeyo’s one and only trip to the United Kingdom some years ago to take part in a competition called the Milk Cup. Tenerife had just won promotion to the Spanish first division a few weeks before and, as one of the tournament’s foreign scouts, I persuaded the club to send two sides (under 14 and under 16) to take on the best of Britain, Ireland and Europe in what is now considered Europe’s top youth tournament. For my sins, I was invited to help train and coach the squads and it was there that I got to know the unassuming Santos, with whom I spent several weeks - including at the tournament itself in July 1989 on N. Ireland’s picturesque north coast.
Apart from their marvellous football, Santos and his charges attracted interest for a series of anecdotes during the week-long visit. They were snapped by a journalist unloading a milk float in the early hours of the morning to quench their thirst after a long trip to Ireland via Madrid. Having tried a bottle of fresh milk (a rarity in the Canaries), Santos was so impressed that he ordered pints for all the players to keep them cool for the rest of the journey. Needless to say, the tournament sponsors were thrilled at the endorsement.
On day three of the stay, Santos had to use his diplomatic skills to persuade the guest houses used to accommodate the Tenerife party to change the meal arrangements. Unaccustomed to dinner at 5pm, the boys tended not to eat much then but by 10pm they were starving and a solution needed to be found. After protracted negotiations with the owners and the organisers, it was agreed that the kitchens could be used to prepare late meals and the menu soon changed to more familiar dishes for the strapping boys (tortillas, pasta, etc), all cooked by Santos and co, with a little help from yours truly.
It became clear how much he had enjoyed and envied the Milk Cup
Anecdote number three came at the Final, when Santos conspired with his players to wear bizarre hats (ordered from a local joke shop) sporting a rather rude message to Norman Cowie, the referee who had effectively eliminated them from the tournament with several bizarre decisions, including a disallowed goal. He even invited Cowie to spend a week in Tenerife to show him some hospitality! In later conversations with Santos (who it turned out shared a birthday with me – 9 November), it became clear how much he had enjoyed and envied the Milk Cup, not least the massive local support for the event and the incentive it provided for youngsters. Down the years it has been used by clubs to blood future stars such as David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Robbie Fowler and a host of others. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Bob Paisley (Liverpool), Manchester United’s Brian Kidd and Nobby Stiles and N. Ireland legend Pat Jennings gave Santos a great thrill but, he confessed, it was matched by seeing three of his starlets picked for the Rest of Europe team in the grand finale to the competition. The trio included a certain Alejandro Sierra (’Sandro’), who was later to enjoy success with Real Madrid in the mid-90s under Jorge Valdano and who Santos had correctly tipped as one to watch.
Tenerife’s participation opened the door to other visits by Spanish sides, including Las Palmas, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid, but their trips were much less memorable, by all accounts.
Goodbye, Yeyo, and thanks for the memories.
By Karl McLaughlin