Ask any resident of the central Mexican city of Morelia if they have heard of a certain Marcos Amaro Castro and you are more than likely to get a negative answer. Put Sr. Castro’s nickname of El Semillas to them, however, and their face will light up in recognition.  

The character in question is an elderly gent who sells seeds (semillas in Spanish) at the Estadio Morelos, the home ground of Mexican league side Monarcas Morelia and one of the venues at the ongoing FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011.

Rare are the occasions on which the popular septuagenarian seed vendor misses a home game, donning a different costume for each one. And so popular is he with his fellow Monarcas supporters that he is regularly asked for his autograph and to pose for photos, demands he is more than happy to accept, and sometimes with a kiss, to the delight of the fans.

Football crazy
A lifelong Monarcas fan who has been attending their games religiously for the last 60 years, El Semillas is a weather-beaten father of three who sports a white beard and thinning white hair. Though life has been a struggle for him at times, his eyes glisten with sincerity.

“I started going to football matches when I was a boy,” he told somewhat guardedly, still taken aback by the request for an interview. “I used to go on my own, but as I didn’t have a cent I’d stick to my friends and get in with them. To begin with I just came to support the team, but one day, as I was tending cows for just a few cents, I started selling cucumbers to make a bit more of a living. And for the last 40 years now I’ve been selling pumpkin, broad bean and peanut seeds at Monarcas matches.”

The fans here really look after me and they think a lot of me, as I do of them. Without their love I don’t think I’d be around today.

Marcos Amaro 'El Semillas' Castro

To some he also known as Tarímbaro, the nearby municipality that he calls home and where he can always be found during carnival time and bullfighting festivals. Indeed, his love of a party provides him with the inspiration for his colourful and often outlandish outfits, as he explained: “When I was a boy I used to dress up as an old man or a young girl at carnival time. I’d wear whatever I fancied, and I even went to the Venustiano [Monarcas’ home ground until 1989] in a bridal gown one day. Everyone loved it.

“I don’t like wearing the same costume twice,” continued Morelia’s master of disguise, who has also pitched up at Monarcas games in the guise of the devil, a chicken and the famous Mexican singers Paulina Rubio and Gloria Trevi. “My witch outfit went down well too, as did my Maria Mercedes [a Mexican soap opera character] and Judas, which I put on one Easter. I’ve even had people asking me to dress up as Jesus, but I’m a respectful person.”

A legend in his own lifetime
According to his fans, El Semillas makes his way to home games in a rickety blue car dating to the late 1970s, and whenever Monarcas look like winning he tosses any unsold packets of seeds into the crowd. “Yes, I do,” he confirmed. “But if it’s a close game, I go home early. I try to keep my emotions under control, and I don’t want to get too carried away because I’m scared I might die.”

Though his nerves might be a little frayed these days, there are few Monarcas games where he is not present, although a hernia operation kept him away from the stands one on occasion, and a practical joke played by the local police caused him to miss a league championship play-off with Cruz Azul.

Sure enough, the local legend was on duty at Mexico’s group match with Congo, although he was not entirely happy with the arrangements in place for the tournament: “I don’t like having this hanging around my neck,” he grumbled, pointing to his accreditation. “And I don’t understand why they put my name down instead of Semillas. With this jacket I can’t show off my national team shirt either.”

Even so, The Seedman of Morelia is delighted to be selling his products at a Mexico game, something he thought would never happen. “The national side never come here and I wouldn’t leave Monarcas for all the money in the world,” he said with complete conviction, before signing off with a heartfelt word of thanks to his faithful customers: “The fans here really look after me and they think a lot of me, as I do of them. Without their love I don’t think I’d be around today.”