By Andreas Vou (@AndreasVou89)
When it comes to Spanish football rivalries, El Clasico has always taken the spotlight where the country’s two biggest clubs battle for territorial pride while the reemergence of Atletico Madrid as a major player in the title race has added a new spice to the Derbi madrileño. The Basque derby is heated, as too can be the clash between both Barcelona clubs, yet when it comes to fiery passion for local bragging rights, nothing quite compares to the match between the two sides from Seville.
Conflict and resentment has been at the root of the rivalry since day one. Following internal disputes at Sevilla FC, a breakaway club by the name of Betis Football Club was created, giving birth to a rivalry that has remained ferocious ever since.
Unlike the majority of the clubs who make up some of Spain’s biggest rivalries, nor Betis or Sevilla were one of the Primera Division’s founding members. There have been 88 top division meetings between them, not a great amount when compared to the 171 league clashes between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid or the 134 between Athletic Club and Real Sociedad.
This has largely been down to the instability of Betis throughout their history, in stark contrast to Sevilla, who have been in the top flight for all but seven years. Despite winning their first top division title in 1935, Betis found themselves relegated exactly five years later. The ‘40s would see their direst spell in their existence, slipping to the fourth tier of Spanish football towards the end of the decade. Various ups and downs ensued and, as recently as 2009 and 2014, Betis dropped to the Segunda.
With great passion for their own clubs, and resentment towards each other, there have been a handful of unsavory incidents in recent meetings. Betis keeper Toni Prats was struck by a Sevilla supporters in 2002 while, in 2007, then Sevilla manager Juande Ramos was hit by a bottle from the opposition fans.
While the passion sometimes over-boils for the worse, a recent tragedy suffered by each club this century has brought about a degree of unity. The sudden death of Sevilla’s Antonio Puerta in 2007 at just 22 years of age, after suffering a series of cardiac arrests during a league match, was one of the most devastating events in the club’s history.
The tragedy brought about unexpected and unprecedented moments; Betis president Manuel Ruiz de Lopera and his counterpart Jose Maria del Nido had a fair share of spats, with one as recent as just six months before Puerta’s death where the Sevilla chief refused to be seen in public with Lopera. However, egos dissolved in light of the loss of one of Seville’s sons, and the two shared a teary embrace at the funeral, while the Betis delegation which arrived to pay tributes was applauded by the Sevilla fans.
Five years later, Betis suffered a similarly tragic loss, as 23-year-old Miki Roque passed away from cancer. Among the thousands of Beticos who laid reefs and scarves outside the Benito Villamarin Stadium were many Sevillistas who put the rivalry aside to pay their respects.
La Liga is certainly better when the two are together. Betis again returned to the top flight this season and on Saturday comes the day each side had been eagerly awaiting since the fixture list was announced in August.
Sevilla have traditionally gotten the better of their rivals, with 55 wins out of the 120 meetings, while Betis have won just 37. The same can be said about the recent meetings between the pair - Betis have not defeated Sevilla at home in the league since 2005-06 while they have earned just two victories in the last ten league clashes, of which they have lost five.
Betis will be happy with their start to the season back amongst the big boys, as they lie in a respectable 11th place, while Sevilla perhaps feel like they should be slightly higher than 7th and perhaps would have been had it not been for their slow start to their campaign. Either way, recent form tends to mean very little going into these games.
They might not like each other but they hate to be apart and, at the Benito Villamarin on Saturday, a lot more than three points will be at stake in Spain’s fiercest local derby.