One of Spain’s most passionate places to watch La Liga football is undoubtedly the 52,700 seater Estadio Manuel Ruiz de Lopera stadium in Seville – the home of Real Betis Balompié. The stadium was known as Estadio Benito Villamarin until it was renamed after the then-owner of the club in 2000. Founded in 1907 by students from the Escuela Politéchnica, Sevilla Balompié later merged with Betis FC in 1914, and was given royal patronage by King Don Alfonso XIII – becoming Real Betis Balompié. Balompié is a variation of the literal Spanish translation of the word ‘football’.
Betis, a word derived from the Roman name of Seville’s Guadalquivir River, were at the time playing in a set of green and black striped shirts given to them by Glasgow Celtic, which was later changed to the green and white of the Andalucía flag. Joining La Liga in season 1932/33, Betis were immediately successful, winning the title in 1935, one point ahead of Madrid. Unfortunately for Los Béticos, they have never been able to repeat the feat in the subsequent years. They did capture the Copa del Rey in 1977 and have appeared in the final of that competition twice since – losing to Barcelona in 1997 and beating Osasuna to win the trophy in the 2004/05 season.
In that same season under Serra Ferrer Betis finished 4th in La Liga which meant they became the first ever Andalucian representative in the European Champions League. They made it to the group stage in which they beat Chelsea on a great European night in Seville but couldn’t progress any further.
Having stared relegation in the face on a number of occasions they finally succmbed at the end of the 2008–09 season. The club president was involved in an ongoing fraud saga that eventually culminated in popular ex-player Rafael Gordillo becoming the new president. After two seasons outside Spain’s top flight, Betis returned to La Liga in the 2011–12 season with
The best-known Betis player in the modern era has been the former ‘wonder boy’ of Spanish football, Joaquín Sanchez. Adored by the Betis faithful, Joaquín scored 32 league goals in his time there, at one stage attracting the interest of Chelsea, before he moved to Valencia for €25 million in 2006. When he scored two goals for his new team at the Estadio Manuel Ruiz de Lopera in season 2007/2008, he could not celebrate scoring against his former club and received a wonderful ovation from the verdiblanco supporters at the end of the game. He joined a resurgent Malaga team in 2011 and has been a key player in their emergence as a recognised club on the European stage.
Real Betis v Seville Derby
The very first Betis and Sevilla derby match took place in October 1915, with Sevilla winning by 4 goals to three. Over the years this has proven to be one of the country’s most fiercely fought rivalries. Traditionally, Betis have always been seen as attracting their support from the working classes – despite their royal patronage on their foundation – whereas Sevilla have had more aristocratic associations. The former coach of Sevilla, Joaquin Caparrós, once stated that, ‘Our derby is different from any other. Those of us who were born here know that and we live the match with real passion.’
During recent years, this passion was further inflamed by the terrible relationship between José María del Nido, president of Sevilla, and the former owner of Real Betis, Manuel Ruiz de Lopera. These two highly controversial figures are different in almost every single way except for the desire for publicity and stories abound of insults they have shared and attempts they have made to upstage each other. Unfortunately, this only succeeded in encouraging the extreme elements amongst the fanatical supporters of the two teams and the atmosphere at local derbies became highly volatile.
Eventually, in a quarter final match in the Copa del Rey in 2007, Sevilla´s manager, Juande Ramos, was hit on the head by a missile thrown from the Betis supporters and knocked unconscious. The match was abandoned and the recriminations were manifold.
The untimely death of Seville-born Antonio Puerta at the beginning of the 2007/08 season shocked the supporters of Betis just as much as those of the player’s own team and, to his great credit, de Lopera made many moving public comments. The subsequent derbies that season were played in a far more sporting atmosphere.