I’m standing on the Alameda de Hércules in the centre of Seville and it’s a sea of green and white. It’s pouring with rain and the thousands of béticos that have flooded into Seville’s most popular drinking destination are sheltering under umbrellas, as am I. A man standing behind me asks me to hold his while he pours a very large gin and tonic. We get chatting and I tell him I’m from Bristol, but have lived in Seville for almost two years. I also tell him I’m a bético. A huge smile appears on his face. “Seriously?” he says. I confirmed so. At this point, he offers me a drink which I accept. When I take my first sip I realise it’s about 90% gin and 10% tonic. It’s going to be that kind of day. After all tonight Betis plays in their first Copa Del Rey final for 17 years and they are playing Valencia at home. Well more or less. Seville’s huge white elephant stadium, Cartuja, is the host venue.
Whilst my copa is sliding down nicely I’m awaiting the arrival of journalist Colin Miller. He’s the author of the must-read ‘Frying pan of Spain’ and is here covering the final for The Mirror. Colin arrives and we head inside a bar to escape the rain. The Alameda has been rocking since first thing this morning, I live nearby and was woken by the songs of the béticos. It’s no different in the bar with fans leaping around and beer flying everywhere. We’re joined by Journalist Alan Feeley and discuss the upcoming match and how it would be the most Betis thing ever to blow this opportunity for a trophy at home. Betis are clear favourites, but could the pressure get to them? Manqué Pieria indeed.
Colin is signing copies of his book for English-speaking fans that have travelled. One has come from Poland and the other from London, part of the Betis diaspora that has left Seville looking for work. The rain is still lashing down but it’s not dampening spirits with the atmosphere incredible. Plooms and plooms of smoke are rising into the air creating a huge green cloud above the Alameda. There are no Valencia fans to be seen and I wonder where they are. There should be 25,000 of them here but I have only seen three all day. Sevilla es verdeblanco today. Before Colin leaves for the stadium, he tells me that Copa 90 are here making a film on Betis and that he met up with Eli Megem last night. He’s interviewed Héctor Bellerín at his house and they think they have made a great documentary. I don’t doubt it and can’t wait to see it once released. I say my farewells to Colin and wish him luck with his match report and head towards home for a break from alcohol and to eat and refuel with water.
I walk past the feria market on my way home and bump into Frank who is a former colleague of mine. He’s from Ireland and like me is teaching English here in Seville. Friends from his hometown have joined him and one of them is a bético, although he doesn’t live in Seville. I ask why and he confirms that he was looking for a Spanish team to support and was attracted to Betis. Frank’s a bético because his flatmate has a season ticket in gol sur lower and told him all about the club. Being Irish I guess the verdeblanco colours help too. After a few more cervezas, I try to head home again to no avail. My phone rings and it is my friend Ana. She and her boyfriend Juanma are in the market right next to where I was drinking. On a day like today, it would be rude not to join them.
I was introduced to Juanma’s parents and in true Sevilliano style they insisted I didn’t pay for a drink. They and Juanma had gone to the last Copa Del Rey final in 2005 and Juanma was wearing his 95-97 shirt he wore at the last final for luck. Both he and his parents had tickets for Cartuja. They were about to leave for the stadium and I needed to get home. I walked five minutes to my flat with the rain still coming down.
Once I arrived I had a brief chat with my flatmate Claire. She like me is a Bristol City fan but has held a season ticket at Sevilla since 2005. She wished me luck for the final and said that she hoped Betis won, as the béticos could do with something to celebrate and that it would be good for the city. I had a ticket for the beam back of the final at Benito Villamarín but had misjudged the taxi demand. I had a 40-minute wait for a cab meaning I would miss kick-off. No matter. The result was the most important thing.
My cab arrived just as the match was kicking off. The driver put the radio on. I asked him if he was a bético and he confirmed he was. We were halfway to Heliopolis when Borja Iglesias scored. We both went crazy in the car. I paid the fare and mouthed a mucho beti which was reciprocated. I headed into the stadium. There was some confusion with the tickets and I didn’t manage to get in until half-time, by which time the score was now 1-1 with Duro netting for Valencia.
Betis just couldn’t seem to get the winner and the match went into extra time and drifted to penalties. There was an audible tension in the stadium with most fans not confident of spot-kick success. Betis had been here too many times and disappointed the fan base too often. It was as if they couldn’t believe that victory was possible. I sat next to a couple with a newborn baby. I learned over before the penalties started and said to the baby ‘whatever happens now I promise you it won’t be another 17 years’ and the couple smiled. Despite the nerves, it felt like this was the start of something even if the final was lost.
The penalties started and it occurred to me that none of the takers had been on the pitch at the start of the match. Willian José was up first and scored. It then occurred to me that the team going first usually loses. I was feeling nervous. Soler scored for Valencia. Up next was Joaquín and I prayed he didn’t miss. What an awful ending that would be to his career. I shouldn’t have doubted him. Despite the keeper getting a glove to it, Betis’ inspirational captain slotted away. Valencia scored theirs. Betis converted the next and so did Valencia. Tello stepped up and scored. I expected another successful Valencia kick but no! 19-year-old Musah missed! It was now all down to Juan Miranda who had attended the last final Betis had won with his parents just like my friend Juanma had, but Miranda was five years old. The stage was set perfectly for him to be the hero. He scored like a mature pro. Betis had won the Copa Del Rey and the Benito Villamarín went nuts!
I headed straight to Plaza Nueva but it was late and the buses had stopped running. Far too many people were trying to grab taxis and so I had no chance. I managed to grab a beer from a kebab shop on Puerte de Jerez but by the time I got to Plaza Nueva, the police had closed off the plaza where the party was in full swing. Colin Miller text me and confirmed he was heading to Alameda. I met him there as the sea of rubbish on the floor was being cleaned up. We chatted about the match and the subsequent penalties and Colin told me that Sid Lowe, who had sat next to him, was convinced that Joaquín would miss too. It would seem that Oviedo fans along with the béticos were nervous. I headed to bed soon after. It had been a long day.
I awoke the next morning a little worse for wear, but eventually headed down to Plaza Nueva for the celebrations. A kid pointed at me and said ‘another bético’. This was true. The centre of Seville was nothing but green and white. I walked past a bar that had a sign outside saying ‘today we are closed as we can’t stand the béticos.’ The bar owners were obviously Sevillistas. Plaza Nueva was packed once again, but I arrived in time to get there before it was too full and watched the team bus arrive and the celebrations on the balcony. I met Colin for dinner and arrived home at the news that Joaquín had announced he was staying another year. It was the perfect end to an unforgettable weekend.