Policemen on horseback patrolled Avenida Eduardo Dato – the stretch of road leading to the entrance of Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan had been closed off in a mass security operation. A helicopter overhead was drowned out by chants from the fans. The view from the hovering aircraft would have been a sea of red and white which had parted to let the surge of visiting fans complete their 4km-long police escort to the stadium.
Fans of Sevilla had already packed the surrounding bars and cafes hours in advance and now were spilling out onto the streets. As the travelling Betis fans marched past, insults were hurled and deafening chants began but there was no genuine hint of violence in the air. This was the Seville derby –a clash which is often pulsating, frenetic and spell-binding, if not always one for the purists.
The encounter had been highlighted by police as a ‘high risk’ event; ensuring maximum numbers of security were present surrounding the stadium, both on the streets and in the air. The visiting fans got into the stadium without incident, while many more – doubtless unsatisfied by the allocation of 650 tickets – made their way into the home end, with tops and scarves proudly on show.
This was a game that split friendships and families right down the middle. A match which a decade or so ago hosted fan violence and unsavoury scenes, and whilst relations between the clubs have mellowed significantly since you could feel the tension, anxiety and mutual sporting disdain for each other.
This was our first Seville derby and our second match visit to Sanchez Pizjuan after the previous December’s home win over Sporting Gijon with our expectations for the atmosphere and match-day experience sky-high.
The efficiency and organisation of the event by Sevilla was evident from the off: entrance to the ground was quick and efficient, you were helpfully directed to your seat by the nearest steward and queues at the bar were manageable, all in spite of the stadium being at its full capacity – just shy of 43,000.
Sevilla’s Biris Norte ultras were predictably boisterous and there Gol Norte tifo display as the teams entered the pitch with the club’s emotionally-charged Himno Centenario being belted out by the home fans was a spine-tingling moment to savour.
Barely had the anthem stopped and the game kicked off when the challenges started to fly-in on the pitch. Petros – Betis’ combative Brazilian holding midfielder – was booked after 45 seconds to set the tone of a feisty, bad-tempered and frantic encounter. The game produced nine yellow cards but miraculously no reds despite a number of crunching tackles, on-field bust-ups, a melee in the Betis dugout and a general ill-tempered undercurrent.
This was the first ‘El Gran Derbi’ (a newly carefully-constructed branding exercise pushed by both clubs in the build-up) in 27 years involving two non-Spaniards as managers. This was both Jorge Sampaoli’s and Gus Poyet’s first taste of the rivalry, though both showed no lack of understanding its importance to the clubs and the city with their touchline displays of passion. The ‘match of the barrio’, as Sampaoli had described pre kick-off.
Wave after wave of Sevilla pressure in the first half brought no joy and whilst they dominated possession, Betis goalkeeper Antonio Adan was only majorly tested once and the visitors posed a constant threat on the break, once they’d passed the high Sevilla press.
The game’s only goal, as official records will show, came six minutes into the half as Gabriel Mercado – one of twelve players playing in their first clash between the two – headed home from Samir Nasri’s free-kick. Two minutes later, Betis had a perfectly valid equaliser ruled out as Alexander Alegria poked home after some fine build-up play. The decision was so badly wrong and so unjust that the frustration of Poyet afterwards was understandable. It would have been the club’s first goal in seven meetings with Sevilla, but the drought continued.
Both these sides underwent mass changes in the summer in terms of their squad, management and coaching staff so a lack of any real pattern was understandable. Sevilla had more quality and attacking potential but the gap between the two appeared, on this match alone, to be narrowing. The absence of defensive pair Adil Rami and Daniel Carrico could and maybe should have been exploited more by the visitors, who opted for caution in using flair duo Charly Musonda and Daniel Ceballos only as substitutes.
Sevilla clung on to maintain their unbeaten start, leaving Betis fuming with the officials if not with themselves. The lack of consistency in the officiating performance throughout the match for both sides was utterly depressing if not entirely predictable. Some challenges merited yellows yet were waved play on, whilst others was punished.
After soaking up the adulation of their fans, Sevilla trooped off followed by their beaten visitors, who were down but not out. All the insults, name-calling and chanting then ceased, as the travelling band of Betis fans in the corner were warmly applauded by the remaining home fans, who’s praise was reciprocated.
It was a genuinely heart-warming moment at the end of an exhausting few hours. Seville is the hottest city in Europe and once again produced the most intense, hotly-contested encounter. Often threatening to boil over on the pitch this encounter was marked by mutual respect.
“Sevilla nos pertence” (Seville belongs to us) read the banner in Gol Norte and it does for now, but this eternal rivalry is far from over.
Monchi’s Men would like to thank Colin for his insightful report from last night. Colin, from Northern Ireland, recently moved to Sevilla, and is a European football Writer on
@footballespana_. Spanish correspondent on @GFFN as well as the @NIFootballDaily and @FutbolAlAndalus owner. I am sure that we all hope he visits us more often to share his views on all things Sevilla. Be sure to give him a follow on Twitter if you aren’t already.