Romantic, romanticised Seville contains all the clichés of Andalusia – and thus of Spain itself. Bullfighting, flamenco, tapas bars and fervent religious processions, you can find them all here. The football, too, is just as fierce, the local rivalry between Betis and Sevilla more head-on than anywhere else in Spain.
And what could be more head-on than penalty shoot-out between the two in the Europa League in 2014? Betis must have thought all their dreams had come true when they won 2-0 at Sevilla’s Sánchez Pizjuán in the first leg. An early goal from ex-Arsenal winger José Antonio Reyes, and Sevilla were soon back in it at Betis. A late and crucial one by Carlos Bacca, and the game duly went to extra-time – and penalties. Despite missing their first spot kick, Sevilla then kept their nerve at the Benito Villamarín.
Both faced each again at the highest level in 2015-16, thanks to the Béticos gaining promotion in 2014-15. Yet contrast with Sevilla remains stark. While Betis were topping the Segunda, Sevilla were winning the Europa League for the second season in succession. In the subsequent UEFA SuperCup, Sevilla lost out 5-4 to Barcelona in a thriller in Tbilisi – the start of a long European campaign that culminated in a 3-1 comeback over Liverpool in Basel, and a third consecutive trophy.
The first organised football match in Spain took place in Seville, in 1890, two teams of mainly local expats working in the local mining and sewage industries. The visitors came from nearby Huelva, considered Spain’s oldest club.
Some of these expats continued to play pick-up games in Seville, where a certain José Luis Gallegos found them in the early 1900s. In 1905, Gallegos founded Sevilla, their directorship taken from the land-owning classes that ruled Andalucia. When one director refused to hire a local factory worker at the club there was a revolt – and Betis were founded by dissident members.
In 1914, Betis merged with Sevilla Balompié and King Alfonso XIII bestowed the Real (‘royal’) title. The first derby took place in October 1915, a 4-3 win for Seville. A 2-2 draw on New Year’s Day soon after was set against a backdrop of disputes over land reform and Andalucian autonomy, and a violent game set the tone for the next 90 years.
In 2007, coach Juande Ramos was knocked out by a missile and Betis had to play three home games elsewhere.
Although both clubs have moved around town since their early days at the Prado de San Sebastián, their deep divisions are typified by their current respective geographical locations. Seville’s Rámon Sánchez Pizjuán – opened, of course, with a derby defeat to Betis – is in the commercial district of Nervión, surrounded by fast avenues and a modern-day shopping mall. Betis are in working-class Heliópolis, to the south. The Estadio Benito Villamarín only recently lost its status as a monument to megalomaniac former club owner Manuel Ruíz de Lopera, who refused the offer of a ground share when a neutral venue was built on the 1992 Expo site of La Cartuja.
Seville sit on valuable real estate and have already sold much of the land around the ground. This failed to impress Betis and the only football the Olympic Stadium has staged was the UEFA Cup final of 2003, which saw a peaceful invasion of the city by 80,000 Celtic fans.
Their award-winning exemplary behaviour was even more remarkable considering the late 3-2 extra-time defeat by José Mourinho’s Porto, and the complete disappearance of local taxi drivers that evening. Not that Seville has a good reputation as far as staging major events is concerned. After one of the greatest World Cup matches of all time, the epic semi-final of 1982 between France and West Germany at the Sánchez Pizjuán, players of both sides were forced to sit at Seville Airport for hours while planes came and went.
Nevertheless, the Spanish national team, before it went on to conquer the world, swore by Seville, either at Betis or Sevilla. This talismanic tradition began with a freak 12-1 win over Malta in 1983 that allowed La Selección to qualify for Euro 1984. Spain went on to win 20 of their next 23 qualifying matches here, until the Spanish FA decided to move host venues around the country.
Seville’s San Pablo Airport is 10km (six miles) east of town. EA Airport buses (every 30mins, journey time 35min, €4), runs to city-centre bus hub Plaza de Armas, via Santa Justa station, terminus of the AVE train link with Madrid (2.5hrs).
A taxi (+34 954 580 000) to town carries a flat fare of €22-€25 depending on time of day/night.
A new, one-line metro system (€2.70-€3.60, day pass €4.50) and TUSSAM buses (€1.40, day pass €5, 3-day €10) comprise the city’s transport network.
Seville Tourist Office has a comprehensive directory of hotels and prices. Little will be available during the two main festivals of Semana Santa (Easter) and the April Fair.
Staying by the Betis stadium means that you’re quite out of town but the four-star Silken Al-Andalus Sevilla can offer a pool, gym and more than 600 rooms. It even offers match packages of superior room and ticket to the Betis game. On the other side of the stadium, the 12-room Villa De La Palmera also offers poolside relaxation.
Tapas bars are essential to Seville. The narrow streets of the Santa Cruz and Triana districts are lined with them, traditional tiled places that offer local Cruzcampo beer and relief from the relentless Andalucian sun.
Typical of the genre is the Bodega Santa Cruz (Calle Rodrigo Caro 1A), while nearby Bar La Moderna (Calle Mateos Gago 7) is popular spot for TV football. Café Bar Leviés (Calle San José 15) is another TV-football destination, with a huge screen and seats outside. Taberna El Papelón is a local, six-branch chain of tapas bars, handy for a quick bite.
Given the baffling closure of eternally popular Flaherty’s by the cathedral, the main football-focused expat places in town are now the Merchant Pub near focal Plaza de Armas, and O’Neill’s by the bullring, with a branch in Madrid.