The working-class element of Seville’s two-club rivalry, Betis are back in La Liga after winning the Segunda in 2015. This means the return of the league derby with city rivals Sevilla.
But the most dramatic recent clash wasn’t a domestic fixture at all. In 2013-14, with Betis in Europe for the first time since 2005, they were leading Sevilla 2-0 from the first, away, leg in the last 16 of the Europa League. The Béticos then allowed their city rivals to pull the aggregate score back to 2-2 – and even saw them miss their first penalty in the shoot-out. All to no avail. Sevilla prevailed, and went on to win the trophy, while in the league, Betis were relegated early doors, in last place.
Within one season, they were back.
Dissident members of Sevilla FC had formed Betis in 1907. In 1914, Betis merged with Sevilla Balompié, and became Real Betis Balompié.
On the eve of the Spanish Civil War, a low-scoring, defensively tight Betis under Irish coach Patrick O’Connell battled their way to top place in the Spanish league. Only needing a draw at Santander to clinch their first title, Betis ran out 5-0 winners, a hat-trick coming from captain Victorio Unamuno. O’Connell’s team swept back in triumph to Seville, where the annual fiesta weekend was already being celebrated.
The Irishman had captained his country to their only British Home Championship, in 1914. As a coach, his triumph at Betis then led him to FC Barcelona, who would not have survived the Civil War but for his leadership. O’Connell died in London in abject poverty in 1959.
Betis also fell on hard times, giving rise to the rallying cry of ‘¡Viva er Beti manque pierda!’, support for the club even when losing, which later became their motto.
Chairman Benito Villamarín saved the day. Betis gained promotion in 1958. Villamarín improved the Heliópolis ground, then sold star player Luis del Sol to Real Madrid to buy the stadium outright. Villamarín fell ill, and the club lost direction. After his death, the stadium took his name.
Further fallow football followed – interspersed by a surprise cup win on an extended penalty shoot-out with Athletic Bilbao in 1977 – before the arrival of coach Lorenzo Sarra Ferrer. He lifted the team back into the top flight, then motivated key foreign stars Finidi George and Robert Jarni to grab Betis regular European competition.
At the presidential helm was Manuel Ruiz de Lopera, a capricious megalomaniac who revamped the Benito Villamarín – then renamed it after himself. Big-name coaches came and went, then Betis bought the world’s most expensive player, Denilson, in 1998. He flopped, coaches were hired and fired, and Betis were relegated. Lopera ended up in jail.
Ferrer returned. With young winger Joaquín providing the chances and Ricardo Oliveira converting them, Betis made their Champions League debut in 2005.
Placed in a group with two strong Premiership sides, 2005 champions Liverpool and Chelsea, Betis managed a draw at Anfield and a home win over Mourinho’s men – but a solitary Vincent Kompany goal for Anderlecht dispatched Betis to the UEFA Cup. There Steaua Bucharest prevented any hopes of all-Seville final in 2006, a derbi sevillano to rival them all. It wasn’t to be.
Joaquín and Ferrer left, and Betis became mired in post-Lopera legalities.
Goals from the prolific Rubén Castro helped Betis back to the top flight, and a European place in 2013-14. Another plus, the club is now playing at the re-renamed Estadio Benito Villamarín – while Ruiz de Lopera lives on in ignominy.
Today’s Estadio Benito Villamarín was built for the Ibero-Americano Exhibition in 1929. Called the Estadio de la Exposición, then Heliópolis after its location, it was inaugurated with an international between Spain and Portugal. Nevertheless, Betis carried on playing at their old ground, the Campo de Patronato, through the early 1930s.
It was at Patronato, between Avenida de Ramón Carande and Calle Diego de la Barrera, that Betis staged their triumphant (and so far, solitary) championship-winning campaign of 1935.
Flush with this success, the club moved to the grandiose Heliópolis, just as civil war broke out.
Post-war chairman Benito Villamarín improved the stadium as Betis followed suit. Taking the influential administrator’s name after his death in 1966, the venue saw considerable changes for the 1982 World Cup. A new three-tiered main stand was erected, the stand opposite made all-seated and given a new roof. It was the perfect stage for David Narey to open the scoring for Scotland against Brazil – and Zico’s men to get four back.
In 1998, megalomaniac chairman Manuel Ruiz de Lopera had the stadium completed rebuilt and renamed after him, involving extended delays and staggering expense.
Today the 52,000-capacity Benito Villamarín comprises the Gol Sur (Grada Joven/Juvenil) and Gol Norte (Grada Alta/Baja), a three-tier main Preferencia and the Fondo opposite, each with a Grada Baja nearest the pitch and the Anfiteatro above. The Voladizo is higher still. Away fans are high up in a corner between the Gol Norte and the Fondo.
Several buses run to Betis, in the southern district of Heliópolis. From the bus station at Plaza de Armas, Nos.3 and 6 take 30-35mins to reach the stadium (No.3 to the Reina Mercedes stop, then an 8min walk). The No.1 takes 30-35min to run from María Auxiliadora near Santa Justa train station to Glorieta Plus Ultra near the stadium. Bus Nos. 34 and 37 run from the Prado San Sebastián (10 stops, 20min from Avenida El Cid/8 stops, 15min from Avenida Carlos V) to the stadium. Finally, No.2 runs from Ronda Tamarguillo, near(ish) metro 1a de Mayo.
The ticket offices at Avenida Tejero/Calle Dr Fleming operate 5pm-8pm in the run-up before match day, 11am-2pm on the Saturday, and 11am-kick-off on the Sunday. Those behind the Fondo are match-day only. Online sales are dealt with by Servi-Caixa and Ticketmaster.
The priciest seats (€60) are in the Preferencia, though the Voladizo will be €40. It’s €30 to sit in the Anfiteatro of the Fondo or Gol Norte. Away fans pay €45. Prices rise (c.€15) for visits by the big two, and derby games.
The main Tienda Oficial Real Betis Balompié is on the corner of Preferencia/Gol Norte at Tejero/Fleming. Amid the mass of green-and-white sportswear, a Betis-embossed old-style leather ball might make a nice souvenir. There’s a downtown outlet at Calle Castelar 8, near the bullring.
Stadium tours (€15, under-6s free) take place hourly 10am-1pm Mon-Fri, as well as 5pm and 6pm Mon-Thur. Visits take in the trophy room, home dressing room, players’ tunnel and pitch.
The nearest bars are on main Avenida Padre García Tejero, starting with the Bodeguita Cástulo decked out in Betis iconography and Pavon by Calle Uruguay, with sepia images of Seville and a charming shot of a little lad in a Betis shirt pulling a caña of Cruzcampo.
Opposite, Bar Jamaica and El Rincon de Manolo are pretty standard, as is the Bar Parada at the roundabout, its name referring to the bus stop rather than any link to goalkeeping prowess. Bar El Quince opposite has more sport talk. Several spots further up Reina Mercedes do cheap lunchtime deals.
In town, La Decana (Calle Santa María Blanca 12) is another Betis haunt, usually open to all.