The Rivalry that Unites a City

Over a century ago, following the establishment of the Sevilla Fútbol Club, an internal managerial disagreement resulted in the founding of Sevilla’s second soccer team, Betis Balompié. So began the unique rivalry between Sevillistas and Béticos.

José “Pepe” González, 70, soccer aficionado and member of the Peña Sevillista de Triana for over 30 years, is willing to speak about any topic, except one. “We can talk about Sevilla, we can talk about soccer, we can talk about anything, but not Betis!”

Less than two kilometers away, the opposite reigns true for the members of the Peña Bética de Triana. Pointing to the big-screen TV prominently positioned in the corner, visible from all angles, Agustín Sánchez, 51, member and bartender of the peña or clubhouse, explains, “We show all Betis games, of course. Other teams, too. But no Sevilla games. Not here.”

The Sevilla Fútbol Club was founded in 1905. In 1907, when the team’s management refused to admit working-class players, some members of the club broke off and formed the city’s second team, Betis Balompié, and thus began the rivalry. Consequently, Betis is traditionally considered to be a more blue-collar team, though it gained the title “Real” (royal) in 1915 with a decree from King Alfonso XIII. Seville is one of only four cities in Spain, along with Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, with two separate professional soccer teams.

The population in Seville is divided into two categories: Sevillistas (followers of Sevilla FC), and Béticos (Real Betis Balompié fans). The rivalry is most notable during the Seville Derby, which is held only in years in which both teams compete in the first division league. Over the past decade, the Derby has been known for violent altercations among fans of both teams. In 2002, for example, five supporters were detained after attacking a security guard and Betis goalkeeper Toni Prats. In the Sevilla-Betis match in the Copa del Rey (the King’s Championship) in 2007, the quarter-final game had to be postponed after a Betis fan threw a bottle at then-manager of Sevilla FC Juande Ramos, knocking him unconscious. Francisco Moreno Romero, president of the Peña Bética Puerta de La Carne, can attest to the presence of inter-team violence on the streets as well. “We have seen fights, sometimes broken windows and glasses.”

But even when the two teams do not face each other, most Sevillistas are anti-Betis, and Béticos are anti-Sevilla FC. “Béticos always want Betis to win and Sevilla to lose, and Sevillistas want Sevilla to win and Betis to lose. This is the rivalry,” Moreno Romero explains, reducing it to simplest terms. Antonio Morales, vice-president of the Peña Sevillista de Triana, agrees. “They speak Betis, we speak Sevilla.”

Despite this separation, though, aficionados of both teams identify themselves as Sevillanos, citizens of Sevilla. For example, Morales, though an avid Sevillista all his life, confides that he sometimes secretly hopes for Betis to win against other teams. “This is my city, these are my neighbors. I would never say this out loud in front of the other peña members, but I sometimes root for Betis when they’re not playing Sevilla. If a city has a good soccer team, more people will come to visit. We have an economic crisis in Spain right now. If more people come and fill up the hotels and eat in the restaurants, that’s good for the city,” he explains.

Morales also notes the impact the success of Betis can have on the mood of the city. “If Betis is winning and doing well, the Béticos are happy. I like to see my neighbors happy.” However, Morales is first and foremost a Sevillista. He is raising his eight-year-old daughter to be an avid Sevillista, and his wife, necessarily, is also Sevillista. Though he has some Bético friends, he can only take relationships with Betis fans so far. “I’m already married, but if I weren’t, I would never marry a Betis fan. Never.”

González, too, is in close contact with many Béticos. “My brother follows Betis, as well as my son’s woman, and some of my friends in Triana. It’s no big deal. We just don’t discuss soccer. It’s better that way.”

Still, the fans of both teams are ardent supporters. González says he has more of a passion for his team, Sevilla FC, than for the sport of soccer itself, and that he identifies himself more as a Sevillista than as a soccer aficionado. He firmly believes that Sevilla will win every game it enters. “I never doubt my team. I always believe in Sevilla in my heart. Maybe not always in my head, but always in my heart,” he says. “Soccer here in Seville is religion,” Morales agrees.

González slumps his shoulders and shakes his head as he remembers the recent match from October 30th, 2010, in which Sevilla fell to Barcelona FC, 5-0. “Everyone in the peña was crying. Well, I wasn’t crying, but almost. It was so embarrassing, so shameful.” But González had already turned his attention to the next game, against Valencia. As usual, he has no qualms about Sevilla’s capabilities. “Sevilla will win for sure tomorrow. For sure.” They did: 2-0.

Sevilla and Betis will not face each other this year because, for the second year in a row, Betis plays in the Second Division, while Sevilla remains in the First one. So they are eager to see their teams face off once again, maybe this year in the Copa del Rey, the second most important tournament in Spain, in which both clubs are classified. “It would be a very emotional derby,” says Francisco Moreno.

There is no denying that a rivalry exists, but it is a friendly, healthy, non-aggressive rivalry, according to Sánchez. He explains that in the Peña Bética de Triana, there are a handful (six or seven, he estimates) of members who are also Sevilla fans, and even a few who are members of both kind of peñas. “They like the environment, and they have friends here. They also enjoy some of the advantages of being a club member. They can watch the games, read the press, participate in the activities, come to the parties.” Though the clubhouse is technically private, all, even Sevillistas, are free to enter. “But the tables and chairs are reserved for club members when Betis plays,” Sánchez clarifies.

Sevillistas too feel that the rivalry exists harmoniously, without problems, according to Morales. “People argue over it, but nothing more. We avoid that.” The Sevillista peña is also a private club, but they do not shut the doors on anyone, including Béticos. Morales even recalls a departed member of the Peña Sevillista de Triana, Eduardo Sobrado, who played for Real Betis from 1955 to 1958.

Moreno Romero, though, says he does not know of any members in the Peña Bética Puerta de La Carne who also consider themselves Sevillista. “We respect each other, but it would be very hypocritical to join the peña just for the sake of being in the peña, or just for the friendships or other advantages.” In his thirty years as president of the oldest peña in all of Spain, the “mother of all peñas,” Moreno Romero says he has never seen a true passion for Betis and Sevilla FC within the same person.

As the Peña Bética Puerta de La Carne is situated in a traditionally Sevillista neighborhood, Moreno Romero explains, the opportunity for a violent or aggressive rivalry exists. This may have been the case twenty years ago, he says, but nowadays it is peaceful.

However, Moreno Romero points out that the press attempts to exploit the rivalry. “The press has played with this sentiment a lot. They look for the worst in the aficionados.” Because of this, he refuses to speak with or even admit reporters from newspapers, like Diario de Sevilla or ABC, into the clubhouse. “I don’t want any problems or controversies. We’ve had our misunderstandings. I don’t want to insult anybody. The only thing I care about is social peace and understanding between Béticos and Sevillistas.”

Kiki Carvajal: A Complicated Identity

Kiki Carvajal, Sevillano, physical therapist, Bético, and retired professional soccer player, offers a unique perspective regarding the Sevilla-Betis rivalry. He is one of few footballers to have played professionally for both Real Betis and Sevilla FC.

Born to “very Bético” parents, Kiki Carvajal was raised a Betis fan all his life. He began his professional soccer career at age 20, in 1988, as attacking-midfielder for Real Betis, then a second-division team. In 1989, he took advantage of the opportunity to play for a first-division team, and joined Sevilla FC. He remained on the team until 1994.

“As a child, I was always an avid Bético. My feelings about Sevilla were never hateful, but I always wanted to see them lose.” Though he spent most of his professional career with Sevilla FC, he still identifies himself as a Bético today. “I was born a Bético, I’m a Bético today. So it is.” Carvajal explains that Betis fans are among the most faithful in Spain. “Win, lose, we’re always supportive. Even when they lose, we applaud them. We’re as loyal as dogs,” he explains with a laugh.

But professionally, Carvajal was a soccer player first, and fan second. “When the opportunity arose to play for Sevilla, a first-division team, I had to take it. Although I am a Bético, I’m also a soccer player. The public didn’t understand, but it’s my profession. And that’s it.”

Though Kiki Carvajal says he was generally treated well by Betis fans after switching over to Sevilla, he remembers being accused of betraying his team for a higher salary. He remembers one instance, for example, in which a Betis supporter threw coins at him. “I didn’t go for the money. The Betis management was a disaster, just like it is now. I wanted to play for a first-division team.” He also recalls attending a Betis game after switching teams, and was met by shouts and taunts from multiple Béticos. “‘What are you doing here? You play for Sevilla,’ they said to me.”

In his six years with Sevilla FC, Carvajal faced off against Betis twice. “I scored a goal against Betis in one game. I remember we celebrated a lot after that. A lot,” he explains, the satisfaction visible in his face. When he faced his old team, though, he did not feel like he was playing against his friends, as they were more like associates. “I didn’t have much of a relationship with the other Betis players. I didn’t know them very well because I didn’t play for the team very long, and I played for Betis B. I played in very few games.”

Carvajal’s parents, though devoted Béticos, attended all of his Sevilla home games to watch their son play. “They’re huge Betis fans, but they didn’t care who I played for. They just wanted to see me play.” Still, he says his father never donned a Sevilla jersey. At the most, his mother would wear a Sevilla scarf, but nothing more.

After a knee injury ended Kiki Carvajal’s professional career in 1997, he studied three years at the University of Seville and in 2000 obtained his diploma in physical therapy. From 2001 to 2008, he entered into the Sevilla FC organization once again and worked as a physical therapist for the team. This complicated Carvajal’s identity as a soccer fan even further. “Some of the players would call me ‘Bético,’” he remembers, beaming.

Today the former player works for a private physical therapy consult, and remains a dedicated Betis fan. However, he admits that he follows Sevilla more closely, but only because they play in the first division. Because of the difference in leagues between Sevilla and Betis this year, he says the rivalry is not as strong, not as passionate. “If a Bético and a Sevillista meet in a bar, they can’t argue. There’s still a rivalry, but it’s nothing like if both teams were in the same league.” Along with the rest of the city, Kiki Carvajal awaits the day when both teams will face each other once again.


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