There is a popular Spanish song which features the lyric “Sevilla tiene un color especial” (Seville has a colour all of its own). Yet, in footballing terms, that colour very much depends on who you ask: green-and-white for followers of Real Betis and white-and-red for fierce city rivals Sevilla.
Famous the world over for the celebrations during Semana Santa (Holy Week) and the Feria de Abril (April Fair), the atmosphere in the Andalusian city can be equally vibrant in the days and weeks prior to a meeting between the two sides, while the banter and taunting afterwards is no less lively.
Sevilla, in the guise of Sevilla Foot-Ball Club, were founded in 1905, while Real Betis can trace their roots back to 1907. Contradictory information abounds with regard to the first clash between the two fledgling outfits, with some sources claiming a 3-0 Sevilla win in October 1914 and still others going with a 1-0 victory for Betis in January 1915.
Said controversy helped set the tone for an always fiercely contested derbi, one in which, at least in the pair’s 84 La Liga encounters, Los Sevillistas enjoy an edge over Los Béticos. Victors on 38 occasions to their neighbours’ 27, Sevilla have also scored 116 derbi goals compared to 100 for Betis.
The latter outfit, however, can point to being the first Andalusian club to play in the top flight (in 1932/33) and the first to win the league title (34/35). Sevilla, for their part, have enjoyed 68 years in Spain’s first tier compared to Betis’ 47, also have one league crown to their name and have won the Copa del Rey five times to their rivals’ three. Adding particular lustre to Los Blanquirrojos’ trophy cabinet was a spectacular period between 2005 and 2007, which featured back-to-back UEFA Cup triumphs as well as victories in the Copa de Rey, the Spanish Supercopa and the UEFA Super Cup.
To date, the most emphatic win for either side came about in the 1918 edition of the Copa de Andalucia, when Sevilla thumped Betis by the astonishing score of 22-0. Nevertheless, it must be noted that their opponents had sent a youth team to the meeting as a form of protest, given that their two best players – Artola and Canda – had been forced to miss the match to do guard duty at the local barracks, as part of their military service.
Fortunately for the team in green-and-white, there have been no such mismatches in league clashes between the teams. Sevilla’s biggest win was a 5-0 home success back in 1943, while the high point for Los Verdiblancos was a 4-0 humbling in 1980.
Tales of derbies past
As anyone who has attended the Seville derby will know, they customarily feature lively, not to mention piquant, verbal jousting and chanting between the rival fans. Adding to the fervour and animosity over the years are the duo’s tendencies to rain on their foes’ parade, such as Betis emerging victorious in Sevilla’s first official game in Nervion as well as their first competitive encounter in Sevilla’s current home: the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. Los Sevillistas also tasted a similarly sweet success themselves, when winning Betis’ first encounter on their own home patch.
Trivia fans will also enjoy a curious incident from the 2004/05 campaign, which provided a notable first in the 75-year history of the derbi sevillano. Though the teams had always previously gone head-to-head with both wearing their traditional first-choice jerseys, the referee that day in the Sanchez Pizjuan felt there was a kit clash – thus making visitors Betis change into their second strip.
What's more, fans of Los Verderones (Betis) and Los Palanganas (Sevilla), have also witnessed many cases of players and coaches working on both sides of the divide – such as the cases of well-respected bosses Luis Aragones and Juande Ramos.
More intriguing, however, was the story of Antonio Barrios, who in 66/67 guided Betis to promotion from the second division before making the switch to Sevilla. Yet things quickly went sour in Nervion for Barrios, who was removed from his post before the end of a 67/68 campaign that ended in relegation for Los Blanquirrojos. With Los Béticos also dropping down to the second tier that season, the call went out to their former boss, who soon guided Betis back into the top flight.
The roll call of players tagged as traitors by one or other set of fans is certainly lengthy, but one highly unusual case stands out. In 1945, in the midst of a serious economic and sporting crisis, Betis sold their star player Francisco Antunez to their eternal rivals. As soon as the transfer became public, however, a groundswell of rage erupted from the Betis fans, a reaction which forced the club’s then President to rapidly back-pedal and try to block the player’s sale.
And though the courts eventually found in Los Verdiblancos’ favour, it was not before Antunez had helped Sevilla to victory in the 1945/46 league championship race – which remains their one and only La Liga title to date. Moreover, the player’s return to Betis was conditional on the repayment of Sevilla’s original transfer fee, funds that were no longer in the club’s coffers. So with the threat of bankruptcy looming, and after Antunez had already made the move across town, the player found himself heading back to the team in white-and-red.
The rivalry today
Though there are four teams from Andalusia currently in Spain’s Primera Division, the Betis-Sevilla clash remains by some distance the highest profile of the region’s derbis. The first of two encounters in the 2011/12 campaign comes after a five-month delay, having originally been scheduled for the opening match of the season only for a players’ strike to push the game back to the penultimate weekend of January.
Betis’ relegation to the Segunda Division after the 08/09 campaign has meant that Seville has been without its biggest footballing fiesta since February 2009. That game at the Sanchez Pizjuan was won by the hosts, though this weekend’s edition will be on Los Béticos’ home patch. And having enjoyed a flying start to the season on their return to the top tier, Betis are now sitting comfortably in 11th spot – just three points behind their seventh-placed neighbours, who have yet to fully recover from failing to qualify for the group stage of this term’s UEFA Champions League.