Fans finally return to Seville for the Spanish “Gran Derbi” like no other

It could have been the whistles from inside Benito Villamarin as Sevilla players ran to warm up or the whistles outside on the streets as more Real Betis fans decided to join us. .

It could have been the chanting, applause and screaming as thousands of people draped in green and white walked towards their doors, or hooves to the ground, horses patrolling, with police perched atop.

There were flares on the sidewalks and helicopters in the sky, feet climbing the steps and hands slapping the back.

“Just listen to this,” Real Betis fan Jose Maria said, pointing behind him. “It’s the sound of a football game.”

It had been 728 days since the last Sevilla derby had been played with supporters, another welcome reprieve for Spanish fans but this one perhaps the most welcome of all.

If the Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona is La Liga’s most famous game, “El Gran Derbi” between Sevilla and Real Betis is the one that is most synonymous with supporters, a celebration of dedication and loyalty to two teams located just four kilometers from each other.

“I took a boat and a bus to get here,” says Juan Carlo, a Betis social worker for almost 50 years.

“Without the fans this game was terrible, to be honest it was nothing. With the fans it is the best game in the world.”

It was also the first game without any fans, the most vivid demonstration of what had changed and what had been lost.

On June 10 last year, Sevilla faced Real Betis as football resumed despite the pandemic, facing empty seats, with players arriving in kit form and people locked at home.

– ‘Lack of magic’ –

“To come back is to win,” the La Liga slogan used to say but even though victory was necessary and better than nothing, it seemed hollow.

Amid the nervousness about returning, Sevilla midfielder Ivan Rakitic was among the strongest voices in favor.

“I’ve heard a lot that we have to play for economic reasons, but I haven’t heard anyone talk about the fans, the people, for whom their club is in their life and who has been taken away from them. the front, ”he said.

There were two other derbies, including the 100th in the top flight, and all of them felt diminished, like games everywhere, but perhaps in this game more than elsewhere.

“In the absence of magic, only metal poles remained,” El Mundo wrote.

Joaquin, the iconic Real Betis striker, who joined the club at 16 and turned 40 in July, even renewed his contract for a new season, determined not to retire without people in the stands. “It would make me sad if my last year was like this,” he said.

With Betis down 2-0, Joaquin came on in the 89th minute on Sunday, applauded by the remaining home fans.

Just over an hour earlier, hundreds of green and white flags fluttered across the pitch as 50,534 fans, minus the 600 from Seville, sang the Betis anthem.

“Hay una leyenda que recorre el mundo entero”, says one line, “a legend that runs around the world”.

In the afternoon, clouds of red smoke had blanketed the Sevilla squad bus as thousands waited to greet the players arriving at the door of the Lebreros Hotel.

On Saturday, they had waited to serenade them after a last training session at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

“Tomorrow the essence of the derby returns, the fans,” said Monchi, Sevilla sporting director.

“Betis and Sevilla fans were born with that feeling. Let’s show the world what our derby is: 90 minutes of passion and dedication for the colors, for our coexistence and respect for the rest of the season.”

Sevilla, third, were strong for Betis, fifth. Shortly after half-time, Marcos Acuna fired a shot into the top corner and nine minutes to go, Hector Bellerin turned away into his own net, prompting Betis fans to return home.

At around 11 p.m. local time, with most of the stadium empty and the final whistle long gone, the Sevilla players returned to the pitch.

In the far right corner they danced, the last sound of the match the Sevilla fans high above them and still there, celebrating the night of the return from the derby.

ta / dj