Karan Tejwani writes about the Andalucian Derby, Sevilla vs Real Betis.
Some games in Spain are often eclipsed by the magnitude of the El Clásico between Real Madrid and Barcelona. The political past of that clash makes it the biggest game in European football, and it possesses all the makings of the perfect rivalry. But in the south of Spain lies another rivalry, this one is the biggest inter-city rivalry in Spain with a harsh past of its own, the game that divides the wonderful Andalusian city of Seville – Sevilla versus Real Betis.
The red and white of Sevilla were the first club in the city, and are the country’s oldest club to focus solely on football since their inception in 1890. Formed largely by a group of British and Spanish men and were born as Sevilla Foot-ball Club on January the 25th 1890. The club also have the honour of playing the first ever football match in the country against Recreativo de Huelva, nearly two months after their formation. They won that game 2-0.
While higher-class people mostly consisting of engineers and entrepreneurs formed Sevilla, Real Betis are more of a club by the people, created by the working class. There was another club in Sevilla formed in 1907 that went by the name of Sevilla Balompié while in 1909, Betis were formed after two workers from Sevilla FC left the club following an internal dispute where they refused against signing a working-class footballer. In 1914, both Betis and Sevilla Balompié merged together to create one club – Real Betis Balompié. This would go on to form the basis of the rivalry between the two, Sevilla were one for the social class, while Real Betis were the ones that carried the flag for the working class.
The first official game between the two took place in 1915, where Sevilla won the game by four goals to three, although this game ended with crowd violence and few officially regard that result. Violence would become a trend for the rivalry and would be visible in several clashes between the two for years to come. Just three years later, the clash between the two would have its first major talking point. Betis’ players were away from the club on national service, and were scheduled to play Sevilla at around the same time. Annoyed by this, the Betis hierarchy decided to protest by fielding a team of young upstarts, and were eventually trounced by Sevilla, but not just by a mere two or three goals, but by 22. Yes, Sevilla 22, Real Betis 0.
Betis have always been seen as the secondary side in the city, with Sevilla holding greater prowess domestically and continently. Their rivals’ 13 major honours – including a record haul of five UEFA Europa League/UEFA Cup successes is a major contrast to their four, but one title they can hold in high of is their La Liga success of 1935, which was when they became the first of the two teams to win a top division league title. Sevilla’s first came 11 years later, and to this day, it is the only La Liga titles the two teams have ever won, which is a major disappointment considering the footballing heritage and culture of the Andalusian city.
Unfortunately for Betis, their league success coincided with the break out of the destructive Spanish Civil war and many of their star names started to leave the club. This period was where Sevilla took control of things and became top dogs in the city. In the period between Betis’ title success and their own, Sevilla constantly challenged for the league and even won the Copa del Rey in 1939, while Betis would see relegation becoming a norm for them – going as low as the third division in Spain – the lowest tier, and made a home for themselves there for seven years.
They did make history in the basement leagues, however, becoming the only club in Spain to have won league titles in all three divisions when they were promoted to the Segunda in 1954 and that was when they went through arguably their greatest era under new president Benito Villamarín with whom they achieved promotion back to La Liga, and finished as runners-up in 1964, before leaving the club the next year and sending them into another period of uncertainty. They would yo-yo up and down the first and second divisions for the following years, before becoming a permanent fixture in the first tier, until their rivalries with Sevilla went up a notch in 1978.
With Sevilla already consolidated in mid-table that season, and Betis flirting with relegation along with Hercules, the latter squared off against Sevilla in a bid to regain their top-level status and send Betis down once again. It is alleged that Sevilla threw the game away in order to condemn their rivals to the second division and that was where the hatred between the two clubs and sets of supporters reached its maximum.
The years following that were etched in mediocrity with neither club able to make a significant difference to Andalusia’s contribution to Spanish football. That all changed in 1998, when Betis broke the world transfer record to acquire Brazilian winger Denílson from São Paulo while their rivals Sevilla were harrowed in debts. But if Betis thought they now had the bragging rights in the city, they were wrong. The team failed to win over any doubters and succumbed to relegation once again, and while they were going downwards, their rivals followed them. Sevilla suffered the same fate that season, finishing rock bottom of the table and completing a miserable year for football in the region.
The two were promoted back up the next season, and since then, it’s been one way traffic. Sevilla have been better on the pitch as well as off it, with results, trophies and worldwide acclaim going their way since the turn of the century. Their efficient board, led by their excellent director of football Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo, more commonly known as Monchi, have stabilized the ship and some of their trophies include two Copa del Rey honours, five UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League successes, a UEFA Super Cup win and a Spanish Supercup claim. And at the same time, the enemy has once again been fidgeting up and down divisions, with their major wins being in the second division and a Copa del Rey title in 2005. It has been a city dominated by one team and it looks set to stay that way in the coming years.
The derby hasn’t had as many fixtures on a La Liga calendar as the El Clásico or the Basque derby between Athletic Club and Real Sociedad and that has largely been due to Betis’ incompetence in the top division. But every time they do meet, it is a game that carries great culture and history is held in high regard.
In a 2002 league game between the two sides at Sevilla’s Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, Betis goalkeeper Antonio Prats was the victim of an assault as a Sevilla fan jumped over the barricades, ran onto the pitch and launched himself on the back of Prats before being escorted away by security. The fan was identified by Sevilla authority and was banned for life from all of the club’s events as the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
That incident seemed nothing in comparison to the one at Betis’ Benito Villamarín Stadium, where Juande Ramos, their former manager who was now in charge of their great rivals Sevilla had a large glass bottle full of liquid thrown at the back of his head. He lost consciousness and was immediately rushed to hospital as he spent the night there and the game – a cup clash, was abandoned. While making his way out of the stadium on route to the hospital, the ambulance had a few bottles thrown at, with ‘Ramos die’ chants being prominently heard.
And in a calming situation, this occurring six months after the bottle incident. Antonio Puerta, Sevillla’s full back, collapsed in a league game against Getafe in the opening round of the 2007-08 season. He was able to recover and walk back to the dressing room, before collapsing once again and had to be transported to a hospital. He was treated upon for three days, but succumbed to his heart diseases and passed away three days after the match. As a mark of respect, players from both Sevilla and Real Betis attended his funeral, but the city stayed shocked to its core. Puerta spent his whole career with his native club, and was given the respect he deserved from both sets of fans.
Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán – The two-time Sevilla president was highly influential to the club’s success from the 1940s and onwards. Sánchez-Pizjuán’s first spell ended in 1941 without much success, but he returned as chairman six years later and led Sevilla to some of their greatest successes which included three Copa del Rey honours and several high finishes in La Liga, but never managed to win it and only had the success of 1946 to show for. The club finished as runners-up in the league twice, once in 1951 and the other in 1957 – both to the Madrid clubs and was a major feat for them at the time. His sudden death in October 1956 brought a tribute from Sevilla followers as their new stadium was named after him and opened in September 1958.
Benito Villamarín – Another president that lead his club to major successes, this one coming towards the end of Sánchez-Pizjuán’s time with Sevilla. He oversaw Betis’ rise back to the top division in Spain and led them to high finishes in La Liga, with the highest being third in 1964. During his reign, the only major trophy he was able to show was the Segunda Division title, but his purchase of the Estadio Heliopolis in 1961 is seen as a major turning point in Betis’ history. He stepped down from his role in 1965, and such was his impact that within a year of leaving the club, they were suffering relegations again. His purchased ground was named after him and is set to expand in the coming months.
José Antonio Reyes – Despite spending several years at the likes of Real Madrid, Arsenal and Atlético Madrid, Reyes is everything Sevilla represents. Having been at the club since he was 10, he played for all youth levels of the club, and the main side between 2000 and 2004. He returned to his home town club in 2012, and has been part of one of their most successful periods, winning three successive Europa League crowns between 2014 and 2016 and is a hero amongst his own support having starred in several derbies against Betis, including a brace in a 5-1 win in November 2012, where he scored the opener after just 11 seconds. He left the club once again in 2016 for Espanyol, but his contribution to them is always held in high regard.
Key games down the years
Sevilla 5-0 Real Betis, 1943 – To date, the biggest league win for either side in the Seville Derby. This one took place in the 1942-43 season, and Betis were out for revenge having lost the corresponding fixture at their home ground by five goals to two. The five goals on the night scored by Sevilla came from two veterans, Raimundo and Berrocal – two veterans of the side who had Sevilla at their goal scoring best between 1940 and 1945. Berrocal bagged a hat-trick that day, while Raimundo got the other two as Betis were 4-0 down at half-time before another goal came late in the match as Sevilla put them out of their misery and in the process, completing a damaging league double on them.
Sevilla 2-4 Real Betis, 1958 – This game in 1958 happens to be Betis’ highest scoring away trip to their rivals and was the first clash between the two in over 15 years following a series of demotions. The game finished 4-2 in Betis’ favour and Betis had to come from behind after going 2-1 down just before half time following goals from Tibot Szalay and Jose Carlos Dieguez late in the second half. They were impeccable in the return period as Esteban Areta’s goal in the 70th was sandwiched between a brace from Hungarian János Kuszmann as Betis sealed an impressive win and commenced their continued their period of domination.
Europa League Round of 16, 2014 – This is a pair of games rather than just one and is the first and only European tie between the two. Real Betis won the first leg at the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán Stadium 2-0, before facing the same fate at the Benito Villamarín Stadium as goals from José Antonio Reyes and Carlos Bacca forced penalties. Sevilla held their nerves and went on to win the shootout by four goals to three as Betis were haplessly knocked out at their own ground despite holding a two-goal lead at the start of the night. Matters were made worse for them when Sevilla went all the way and won the whole competition, beating Benfica in the Final in Turin to add another European title to their collection.
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Karan Tejwani is a keen follower of South American and Eastern European football culture and maintains an occasional thing or two for the numbers that make up the game
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