Former Sevilla French football player Julien Escude (R) gestures during an AFP interview in Madrid on February 13, 2016. Seville has two faces: those who like the Holy Week, attending the religious precessions, and those who prefer the April Fair, a spring festival on a flamenco air, between flounced dresses and Traditional outfits. And then there are those who love the green and white of Real Betis Balompie and those who prefer the red and white of Sevilla FC. PHOTO: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP
In a city famous for its flamenco and religious parades, nothing captures hearts and minds in Seville more than when Real Betis and Sevilla clash in Spanish football’s most passionate derby.
“You are Betis or Sevilla. It is an identity, like a religion,” former Sevilla defender Julien Escude tells AFP.
“The virtue or difference that Betis-Sevilla has is that it is not just the experience of gameday,” says Sevilla’s sporting director Monchi.
“The day of the game is the icing on the cake of a derby that is lived throughout the whole year.”
Just four kilometres separate Sevilla’s Sanchez Pizjuan stadium from Betis’ Benito Villamarin, where the sides meet on Saturday.
“It is a city divided in two. I think it is that passion and the fact everyone is wound up in the game that makes it different from others,” adds Betis historian Manolo Rodriguez.
“A radio commentator once described it as the match without neutrals.”
Both sides boast just one La Liga title each with their resources paling in comparison with Spanish football’s powerhouses Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Yet, that has made local pride and getting one over on your rivals even more important in the Andalusian capital.
“You go to buy a loaf of bread and the person serving you says: ‘this week we need to win the game’,” says Betis midfielder and Seville native Dani Ceballos.
“It is special. During that week in Seville people stop and leave everything else to one side.”
The rivalry is even extended to the city’s Guadalquivir river where a team of rowers representing Betis and Sevilla fight out an annual regatta.
– ‘Going to war’ –
That passion has at times spilled over into the unsavoury.
A bitter war of words between former rival presidents Jose Maria del Nido and Manuel Ruiz de Lopera saw the nasty side of the rivalry reach its peak.
“I had the impression we were going to war,” says Escude of travelling into the inferno of a derby on the team bus.
“We leave (Sevilla’s stadium), the bus turns the corner, and it is like we are in a different country.
“The same city, but a total change. It’s incredible to experience that.”
When Freddie Kanoute opened the scoring for Sevilla at the Benito Villamarin in a tense Copa del Rey tie in February 2007, bottles rained down onto the Sevilla bench and one struck coach Juande Ramos on the head, leaving him momentarily unconscious.
The match was abandoned and the remaining 33 minutes were played behind closed doors over 500 kilometres away in Madrid.
“I think at that time we all made mistakes,” Monchi accepts. “We had to rectify those and return to normality.”
– Puerta tragedy –
Peace was restored in tragic circumstances when Sevilla defender Antonio Puerta died after suffering a cardiac arrest later in 2007.
Betis fans joined in the memorial to Puerta in the first derby following his death.
“The death really changed the radical nature of the rivalry between the two teams,” adds Escude, who was a teammate of Puerta’s.
“Now it’s football, it’s still a celebration.
“It remains a heated derby, but it doesn’t go beyond sport.”
In the decade since, Sevilla become undoubtedly the dominant force on the pitch.
The red and white half of Seville have lost just one of the last 11 derbies and won the last four.
“We have been able to avoid that a derby would save or kill a season if you didn’t win it,” adds Monchi.
“We have been able to look beyond the rivalry and not use it as a life jacket to save our season, but the emotion and what a derby means hasn’t been lost.”
Ceballos, 20, has yet to experience being on the winning side in a derby.
And with Sevilla flying high in La Liga and the Champions League, he knows how much it would mean to the Betis faithful to see their rivals suffer for once.
“To win a derby, it would give the fans a huge lift,” he adds.
“It would be lovely to finish the season with our objectives accomplished and, to top it off, win such a special game.”