Whenever anyone here in Seville hears me explain in my terrible Spanish with my horrible English accent that I am a card-carrying Bético there’s one thing they always want to know: why? In fact, I’ve now been asked this so many times that I have the story ready – in both English and (terrible) Spanish, depending on who’s asking.
The first weekend after arriving in Seville, back in September 2008, my wife and I went to a bar near Plaza Pumarejo to watch the first derbi of the season, having decided beforehand that we would decide during the game which side of the footballing fence we should jump down to.
By the wall, a dozen of Béticos – but, well, nothing much regular about them at all.
I’m afraid don’t remember much about the 0-0 draw that was played out down in Heliópolis that afternoon, but I do remember the scene in our bar very clearly. By the door, a dozen Sevillistas – regular football fans to a man. By the wall, about the same number of Béticos – but, well, nothing much regular about them at all. There was a old man nervously fiddling with the ends of his impressive handlebar moustache; an abuela dressed entirely in green, with her dog – also in green; a homeless guy with a Betis scarf who ordered a glass of water just so he could sit and watch the game; a bespectacled student chewing maniacally on his nails; two rapt young boys in complete Betis kit, with their mother just behind them and staring at the screen just as intently. And so on. We weren’t sure what we were seeing, but it was absolutely nothing like Liverpool-West Ham at the Burleigh Arms back home.
At this point in the story, I can usually count on two very different reactions. If I’m explaining all this to a Bético, they’ll usually start chuckling around now and say something like, “That sounds about right!” No further explanation is necessary. But Sevillistas tend to look at me a bit blankly (and not just because of my terrible Spanish and horrible English accent). They usually still want to know the answer to their original question: why?
But never mind them, because from that game on there was no choice to be made. My wife and I were Béticos, we love to gamble (make sure to discover more here now). A church broad enough to include dogs and winos and grandmothers, we reasoned, would have space for a couple of foreigners too.
My wife and I were Béticos. And we’ve certainly never felt a moment’s regret
And we’ve certainly never felt a moment’s regret. Quite the contrary: our instincts were proved completely right. The more I found out about the ethos of the club – and be sure that the philosophy of “manque pierda” (even if they lose) was drummed into me by every Bético I talked to that first year – the more I found I could relate to it. I was tired of the whining, radio-phone-in-calling, sack-the-manager-now style of football fandom so prevalent in England these days, but Betis was different. And we were on the right tracks from day one. If a grandmother – and her dog – was prepared to dress head to foot in green to watch their team on a small television in a crowded bar, this wasn’t likely to be simply about winning and losing. This had to be something more.
And I soon found I wasn’t the only foreign Bético in the world.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to put my finger on exactly what this “something more” is, but however indefinable it might be, I was soon addicted. That first year, I watched almost every game on TV screens in different bars all over the city. Then I bought a season-ticket. I started an English-language blog. People started reading it. And I soon found I wasn’t the only foreign Bético in the world.
In fact, there are thousands of us. There are people in America who spent nine months in Seville 20 years ago and have been in love with the club ever since. There are Englishmen who saw Betis play at Anfield and “got it” in an instant. There are Béticos in Scandinavia and Croatia and Poland and Australia, all of whom care more about a football team from a hot city in the south of Spain than whoever plays on their doorstep.
“There’s sport, there’s football, and then there’s Betis.”
Why? Maybe a taxi driver I had recently put it best: “There’s sport, there’s football, and then there’s Betis.” Or as a girl we met in a ticket queue down at the Villamarín explained to my wife when asked whether she thought someone English could be a proper Bética: “Claro! Se nace.” (Of course – you’re born with it.)
And that’s more or less how I look at it now. That first derbi in the bar on Calle San Luis might only have been three years ago, but I’m sure deep down I was always a Bético – I just didn’t know it till I came to Seville.
You can follow Adam on his blog: http://oohbetis.typepad.com/balompie/