Betis, whose green-and-white shirts sport the colours of Andalucía,
are the team of Seville's working class, their fans coming from the
poorer barrios (neighbourhoods). Ex-Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez
famously supported Betis – although some say that he felt, as a Socialist, that
he had to identify himself with them.
There is an earthiness, self-deprecation and humility about Betis
which they see as missing from their "snooty" neighbours. Their battle
cry, woven into countless scarves, is "Viva er Beti, manque pierda".
Instead of reading "Viva el Betis, aunque pierda" as would be correct,
it's written in strong local dialect and means "Long live Betis, even
when they lose" – an unusual sentiment in Spain.
It's true, too. When Sevilla went down at the turn of the century, attendances dropped; Betis, though, continued to command impressive gates in the Second Division. And so it has proved recently: their 2009/10 Segunda Division average attendance was nearly 29,000 – 9,000 clear of champions Real Sociedad and more than three times the divisional average.
Betis dropped out of the top flight in May 2009, condemned to relegation not even on points but on the head-to-head record with Getafe. With cutting coincidence, the final Segunda table in June 2010 showed them missing out on promotion on the head-to-head record, having amassed the same 71-point total as not just third-placed Levante but also second-placed Hercules, just three points behind Real Sociedad. Humility indeed.
And yet humility hardly describes the man who looms largest over
Betis – multi-millionaire president Manuel Ruiz de Lopera. This is the
man who one player described as "a Mafioso dictator", the man who
glories in his devotion to the Virgin of the Macarena, who made his
fortune renting second-hand televisions, who has sacked players for "not
trying", and who winds up Sevilla at every opportunity. And who in 1998 spent a
then world-record, far from humble £22m on Denilson. Naturally,
Sevillistas derided that signing as the desperate, crass act of a rich
man with no class.
For once, Betis fans wouldn't argue with that description. In summer 2010 De Lopera came under investigation over the nature of his ownership, after large-scale protests against his governance. Solidarity, mass action and complaints against the ruling class? That's Betis.
The 55,000-capacity stadium, whose named recent switched back to Benito Villamarin from Manuel Ruiz de Lopera (him again!), hardly befits Betis's
working-class identity. A 25-minute walk west from the city centre,
along the grand Paseo de las Delicias and the Avenida Heliopolis, it
nestles amongst posh houses. Three-quarters of it is modern, steep and
imposing; the odd stand out – a tiny, separate bank behind the goal – is
the earthiest, where Ultras gather for chants, banners, fireworks and,
when bored, seat-burning fires.
Club address Avenida Heliopolis, 41012, Sevilla
Telephone (0034) 954 610 340
CITY GUIDE: SEVILLE
Seville is the first city of Andalucia, of which Byron once said:
"Seville is a pleasant city, famous for oranges and women." That
wouldn't do justice to modern-day Seville, however. This city isn't for
the faint-hearted, of mind or body: it's Spain's bullfighting hotbed and
the birthplace of flamenco, while in summer temperatures soar off the
Perhaps as a result, it's a famously nocturnal city, brimming with
dancing and drinking until daybreak. Seville has several culinary
specialities. Tapas, though eaten throughout Spain, is a Sevillian
favourite, and locals keep cool swigging tinto de verano (the Andalucian
Pimm's – lemonade and wine with plenty of ice) while sitting with
friends in the squares. You won't be short of things to do in Seville,
even without mentioning the Macarena.
From the airport you can take the bus (operated by Amarillos) which
leaves hourly. The bus costs 2,50 euros, or you could catch a cab for 15
Avda. de la Constitucion 21, (0034) 954 221 404. See www.turismosevilla.org for more details.
If you're in Seville between July and September, visit the open-air Cines de Verano and take in a film with a beer and tapas.
SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT
Seville is the home of flamenco, and while many of the flamenco bars are
tacky and overpriced, some are worth visiting. Los Gallos, on the Plaza
Santa Cruz, is definitely amongst the best if you can stretch to the rather steep entry fee (which does include a free drink). See www.tablaolosgallos.com for more.
SOMETHING FOR THE BLOODTHIRSTY
Bullfighting isn't for the faint-hearted – people and animals can die
messily in front of you – but if you fancy a bit, call the Plaza de
Toros (954 228 457) on the day from 4.30pm for a ticket.
The famously exhilarating Semana Santa, held during the week before
Easter – a marching procession with flamenco dancing and drinking in
equal measure. The party continues just two weeks later with the
week-long Feria de Abril.
For regular updates on the crazy world of Spanish football, see our blog La Liga Loca
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