A rugby president with a Michelin star

García discovered rugby by chance when he was 17 years old.
García discovered rugby by chance when he was 17 years old. / Julio Rodríguez
  • For the past 15 years this well-known restaurateur has been guiding the rugby club from Marbella on its ascent to elite national status. The head of Trocadero Marbella, Paco García, is also the director of El Lago restaurant

In Marbella, rugby is successful, more so than anyone would once have dreamed, despite its facilities being so small. Back in 1988, nobody ever imagined that a group of friends led by Roberto Osborne would sow the seed of several generations of champions of Spain in all lower categories.

That group was indirectly responsible for the fact that today the Trocadero Marbella club has a youth team of 350 boys and girls of more than ten nationalities and a senior team which hopes to move up to elite status this year, the División de Honor A.

The members of the youth team are known as 'the chicks'. That was the name given by the founders, Roberto, Pedro, Alejandro, José, Enrique and co, to the youngsters who nearly 20 years ago knocked on the door of the club for the first time. It was then that the marriage took place between famous restaurateur Paco García and rugby. The director of El Lago restaurant, which has received recognition with a Michelin star since 2005, realised that rugby had pushed him to seek international fame.

He had spent his adolescence in a poor district of Marbella, and was more likely to flirt with harmful distractions than anything else. “I was 17, I started to smoke cigarettes, then people would offer you a joint... I came across rugby by accident and its values stayed with me forever after that,” says Paco, the president of Trocadero Marbella.

The founders of the club used to meet in his father's bar and he was surprised by the great atmosphere between Spanish, Argentinians, French and British who were taking their first steps in rugby on the field at Salduba. “I thought they were fantastic. They were educated, left bigger tips than they needed to and drank beer non-stop. In fact, I beat them by producing so many bottles they couldn't finish them all! I stopped mixing with the other kids in my district and went with my friends to watch rugby,” he says.

Change of mentality

He had no knowledge of the rules or tactics, only what he had heard when this group of friends talked about the marvels of rugby, but that was enough for the man who leads the club today to end up playing in the first team at the age of 27, and spending 15 years as its president. However, he didn't just enjoy the sport: he also changed his mentality and was accepted at the prestigious La Cónsula catering college, which no longer exists today.

“I wanted to leave school but they said I had to study something, no matter what. They told me I had a special way of dealing with people, that I was good at empathising. 'Go and study something you like. Go to a special school where you will get somewhere in life', they said,” he says.

That was a key decision. “I had an offer to play semi-professionally in Scotland or to start studying for a career. The people who had interested me in rugby in the first place told me I should study, because there would be plenty of time for rugby later, and they were right,” he says.

He has set an example to others. For years Trocadero Marbella has trained players who have become internationals with Spain, Argentina, Scotland, Wales, Great Britain and France, who ended up in other teams because they couldn't finish their university education in Marbella. Now, many of these stars are coming home.

One example is Nacho Molina. After finishing his studies, he formed part of the national team and did extremely well with VRAC Entrepinares, ofValladolid. He is the general manager of the club and a cornerstone of its rise to fame. The club survives thanks to the altruistic work of its management team, coach, trainers and private sponsors who have supported the project to make Marbella a national benchmark for rugby.

The time when this was a talent factory for other clubs is over. “It was frustrating to see that the VRAC won the league with seven of our players, after what we had spent on sandwiches for them since they were eight years old,” jokes García. Last summer his right-hand-man, vice-president Rubén Pérez, a tireless promotor of local rugby, and he decided to make the club more professional to compete with the best in the country, and they were able to find public and private support. After all Paco, and rugby, are both very popular in Marbella.