At 22:55 on the dot, the distant sounds of car horns and deep whooping confirmed the result that half the city had been waiting for. A man in his fifties dressed fully in red staggered out from a tavern to my left, cheering his team on to the smiles and polite applause of four young women sat in the open-air plaza. Though the evening breeze still carried the heat of the Sahara, thousands and thousands of people had the same idea;
Get to the Puerta de Jerez right now.
The cordiality that béticos and sevillistas currently share in 2020 has not been the historical norm. Conflict between fans of Seville’s two giant clubs was first documented in the 1930’s, and tempers have often risen to unhealthy levels during derbies between Real Betis Balompié and Sevilla FC. As such, whenever one of the two teams wins a trophy or an important match, fans congregate at one of two separate locations in the city. Betis fans celebrate in the leafy Plaza Nueva behind the city’s stunning town hall, and Sevilla aficionados gravitate towards the Puerta de Jerez half a kilometre away where the avenida de la constitución meets the Guadalquivir River.
But as I finally reached “Sevilla’s spot”, a stagnant atmosphere sat in the air. Several red and white shirts were milling around, but six police vans stationed around the square conveyed a clear message; any person noticed loitering around would be quickly moved on with a firm hand on the shoulder. At the end of the day, this decision was the correct one – the hemorrhaging national economy and stretched public healthcare system could really do without further waves of confirmed Covid-19 cases. But these measures were inconvenient news to Sevilla Fútbol Club fans hoping to celebrate the fact that their team had just won its record-breaking sixth Europa League title.
Sevilla FC is Spain’s oldest professional sport club dedicated exclusively to Football and contested Spain’s first ever organised match against Recreativo de Huelva on the 17th of March 1890. Though Andalusia was the region that pioneered the sport in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Catalonia, Madrid and the Basque Region quickly overtook the South regarding Football prowess. Between 1890 and 2006, the only national silverware Sevilla FC lifted was the La Liga title in 1945 and 3 separate Copa Del Rey championships in 1935, 1939 and 1948 respectively. However, with the appointment of former goalkeeper Ramón “Monchi” Rodríquez Verdejo as the club’s sporting director in 2000, the foundations were laid for the rojiblancos to become the cup specialists they are known as today.
Monchi revolutionised the club’s scouting and player development structures, internalising a more sophisticated use of data to identify undervalued talent and to better nurture young the players on the club’s books. It didn’t take long for the results to reflect Monchi’s groundbreaking efforts. With no real increase in budget, Sevilla won the 2005/2006 Europa League final, and though nobody knew it at the time, this season marked the beginning of the most successful period in the club’s history. The rojiblancos went on to win further Europa League finals in 2007, 2014, 2015 and 2016, won the Copa Del Rey in 2007 and 2010 and even achieved top 3 La Liga finishes in the 2006/2007 and 2008/2009 seasons. Now that Sevilla has won a record sixth Europa League title, it seems that the club’s golden era hasn’t concluded yet.
The sound of car horns to the west of the Puerta de Jerez indicated that Sevilla fans were still trying to celebrate in spite of the police. On the multi-laned Paseo de Cristóbal Colón along the banks of the river, drivers, riders, cyclists and pedestrians of all ages were making as much of a scene as possible. I took up position next to a couple of bewildered Feyenoord fans to watch the show unfold. Passengers and drivers in every other vehicle racing by would beep their horns and holler directly at the growing amount of people dressed in red and white along the side of the road. Whenever the lights turned red, middle-aged mothers, respectable gentlemen and confirmed Biris Norte ultras alike would lean out of their car doors to wave their flags and scarves in furious celebration.
After half an hour, the Feyernoord boys shared their idea with me. One called a taxi and the three of us tumbled into the back, giving the driver a simple instruction;
“we need to get to Nervión right now”.
The name of this classy neighbourhood of Seville has become the conversational short-hand for the Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán – the home of the rojiblancos and a plot of land owned by the club on which a thriving commercial centre earns the Sevilla FC a pretty penny. We had no idea if many or indeed any sevillistas had had the same idea as us, but the short taxi ride split three ways was worth the risk.
Now past midnight, fans were pacing around the stadium in shared high spirits. Decked-out in scarves, replica shirts, flags and of course face masks, these pedestrians were singing, cheering and demonstrating their eternal love for their club to the heavens above. However, these fans were thoroughly outnumbered by the people driving the cars, vans and scooters also circulating around the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán. Knowing full well that the police could step in at any moment to ruin the celebrations if too many people gathered and got too close, the new champions of Europe smartly decided to celebrate together from behind their steering wheels on the one-way streets around the ground. Of course, this had its advantages – stereos blurted out club hymns and horns toot-toot-tooted, adding volume to the party. Again, at every red light, the fans on foot crowded the stationary vehicles as salutes, kisses and high-fives were shared.
Of course, each time a police vehicle rolled by, the enthusiasm became slightly muted. Though public opinion of the country’s domestic security services has improved in the 21st century, the Spanish generally don’t have a very positive opinion of their police force. At one point a squad car rumbled by, causing the fans beside us to quieten down momentarily. This proved inexcusable to the officers in question – though not for the reasons we expected. Without warning, a voice from inside the police car suddenly blurted out via the electronic tannoy system. “Vamos mi Sevillaaaaaaaa – ¡vamos campeón!” The officer couldn’t contain his delight at Sevilla FC’s sexta, and the pedestrians whose taxes were paying his wages roared in approval of his decision to lead the chanting and contribute to the party.
Statistically, Betis is the better supported club in the city. On a normal day’s walk through Seville, one sees just as many verdiblancos shirts as rojiblancos replica kits. Friday however was not a normal day – béticos kept firmly out of the way of the sevillista celebrations. In the Spanish city where chivalry and gentlemanly conduct is valued above all others, spoiling their main rival’s party would have been seen as vulgar, shameful and way off the mark. Betis fans know their day will come. They can be patient for now.