El Gran Derbi does not stand back for 'Big Brother' El Clasico

FILE - Betis' defender Alex Moreno (R) in action against Sevilla's defender Gonzalo Montiel (L) during the Spanish LaLiga soccer match. Photo: Raul Caro/EPA

FILE - Betis' defender Alex Moreno (R) in action against Sevilla's defender Gonzalo Montiel (L) during the Spanish LaLiga soccer match. Photo: Raul Caro/EPA

Published Nov 21, 2022


Cape Town - My overall matchday experience at the El Gran Derbi, the match between LaLiga’s most historic clubs Real Betis and Sevilla FC, confirms that arguably the most passionate derby in Spain is the El Gran Derbi between Real Betis and Sevilla.

Like El Clasico (The Classic), the match between rival clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, the most watched (on television worldwide) club match in the world, the El Gran Derbi has an equally overpowering presence in La Liga.

El Clasico's global appeal grew exponentially a few years ago when two of the greatest footballers of this generation, Lionel Messi (Barcelona) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), played on opposite sides. During their LaLiga stints, they played 34 times against each other in all competitions, including the 2007–08 UEFA Champions League semi-finals.

On Sunday, November 6, I was in a group of foreign journalists who were invited to savour the spectacle of the El Gran Derbi at the 60 000-seater Estadio Benito Villamarín. The journos were from several countries including India, China, Brazil, Morocco, Indonesia, England, the USA, Canada, Columbia and the Philippines.

The previous day, we were taken on a tour of Estadio Benito Villamarín and that prepared us to know where the teams enter the stadium, the position of the dressing rooms and the path they take to enter the arena for the kick-off, which on Sunday, November 6, was 9pm.

On match day we arrived at the Estadio Benito Villamarín and found the venue surrounded by thousands of fans. Outside the surrounding area was fenced off with barricades and thousands of security officers and police, many mounted on horseback, were patrolling the area.

To our amazement, we were told fans would not be allowed in the stadium before the two team busses arrive at the stadium and the players made their way to the dressing rooms.

Most of the journos have never heard of an arrangement like this before anywhere in the world but the media officer Alberto Piñero, a former football journalist was at hand to explain the situation.

"On one hand, there is a security protocol coming from federative rules (Spanish Federation) which says that the stadium will open their gates for fans one hour before the match," said Piñero.

"This is the case in every match in the Spanish competition, not only for El Gran Derbi two weeks ago.

"The head of security who is on duty for matchday has the power to modify a little bit and open the gates a bit earlier or later due to security issues. For example, there may be way too many people in the surrounding streets, or the stadium needs more inspections or something like that.

"On the other hand, regarding the teams' arrival, the federative rules also state that both teams have to arrive at the stadium a maximum of 90 minutes before the kick-off.

"There is also a strict audio-visual protocol coming from LaLiga which says that the teams' buses have to arrive at the stadium separately, and also before the 90-minutes-before-kick-off deadline due to the broadcasting schedule.

"It is for these reasons that the teams always enter into the stadium before the fans in LaLiga games."

While the green-clad Real Betis fans wait for the busses to arrive they are in a festive mood outside. They are in party mode and set off fireworks and flares while chanting football songs. If you're not used to this, you could be forgiven for thinking it's gunshots in the area.

There are no Seville fans to be seen. Only a few hundred have managed to buy tickets for the match. Real Betis has a base of 50 000 season-ticket holders and that's where the bulk goes. About 10 000 tickets are made available to the public and about 1000 tickets are made available to the Seville who will be seated in a remote corner of the colossal stadium.

While waiting for the team busses to arrive, and it’s about two hours before kick-off we were let into the TV compound area. There are several world-class outside broadcast units and remote production facilities for coverage of the game.

We're allowed to interview the match commissioner and his assistant, and it was a unique experience for me to interview with loud bangs from firecrackers going off every minute or so.

First to arrive was the Seville team bus and no one is visible from the tinted windows. Instead of cheering there was loud jeering, taunting and mocking. Once the players stepped off the Seville bus it was a cue to ramp up the vibe, ahead of the Betis bus arrival.

Some hundred flag bearers ran out with Betis banners and lined the driveway outside the main grandstand. A huge roar greeted the Betis' arrival and 10 minutes later the police signalled that barricades would be removed.

The fans who lead the way into the stadium break out into a dance, but it is all orderly and within minutes the stadium fills up.

Every fan in the stadium seems highly charged and the cheering is virtually non-stop.

I'd swear the fans were getting paid to do it.

All in all a wonderful experience in the city of Seville, where football reigns supreme.