Conspiracies, class divides and all-night parties: Why Real Betis vs Sevilla is Spain's hottest derby
Denilson de Oliveira is used to compromising situations. When the Brazilian moved from Sao Paulo to Real Betis in 1998, the £21m transfer fee was hefty enough to make him the most expensive footballer on the planet. Eyebrows were raised throughout the football world. "Real who?" asked many outside Spain. "Betis? Are you joking?" asked many within.
The transfer was no joke though, and from the moment he arrived in Seville, Denilson's every move was scrutinised. He was singled out by rival players with a point to prove, and by a Spanish press so voracious that news of Zinedine Zidane or Rivaldo taking a coffee would be deemed fit for a story.
Given that he's survived nearly four years at Beds, Denilson will have grown used to exercising caution. So why he and 14 Betis team-mates chose to hatch the following plan on Halloween night is a mystery.
The 15 players told their wives and girlfriends they had an official club dinner to attend. They didn't. Instead they went to a private party along with 38 girls, whom it was later noted were of the more aesthetically pleasing variety. At around 6am, with the party still rocking, Betis' president, Manuel Ruiz de Lopera, acting on a tip-off from one of his many private detectives, turned up.
"I don't know if it's the whisky, but I'm seeing the president," said one inebriated Betis player. It wasn't the whisky; Lopera was there in the flesh. And he wasn't pleased. Denilson, beer in hand, tried to escape through a window but the wily chairman caught his prize asset. As compromising situations go, this was a first for Denilson.
Lopera, the flamboyant and controversial owner of Betis, was placed in a difficult predicament. Given that the derby between Real Betis and Sevilla was less than two weeks away, any punishment handed out could have an adverse effect on a team spirit which was evidently thriving. Lopera decided to sit tight and not to punish...allegedly pending the result of the derby.
The Seville derby is regarded as the fiercest in Spain. Everybody knows of the matches between Barça and Real Madrid, but you'll be lucky to find a hundred away fans at either game. Unlike England, Italy or Germany, Spain simply doesn't a tradition of travelling fans. At the recent Espanyol v Barça derby, the Catalan giants took a mere 150 fans to their cross-city rivals in Espanyol's vast Olympic stadium.
Seville is renowned for the passion of its football fans – one reason why the Spanish national side play there so frequently
Seville, however, is renowned for the passion of its football fans – one reason why the Spanish national side play there so frequently. Here, fans of the rival teams live and work side by side. True, the same can be said of Espanyol and Barça fans, or Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid fans, but the fortunes of the two giants of Spanish football are very different to those of their less glamorous neighbours.
In Seville, however, the recent fortunes of the teams have been remarkably similar, only adding to the intensity in the games between the two. Both teams were relegated in 2000, and both returned to La Liga a year later, Sevilla just pipping Betis to the title.
Both average 35,000 crowds and seem hopelessly incapable of avoiding controversy. Sprinkle that concoction with a series of facts and half-baked conspiracy theories and you begin to understand why there's no love lost between rival fans in Spain's fourth largest city.
While the Betis players had to worry about a fine and a few choice words from their better halves after their Halloween misdemeanour, three Sevilla players have a little more on their mind – the very real prospect of jail. A local prosecutor is recommending that the players are sent down for eight years for a bar-room altercation two years ago.
The trio claim they were enjoying a drink with their partners when they started receiving verbal abuse. After ignoring the vitriol for a few minutes, they did what any high-profile football player shouldn't do: allegedly, they leathered their detractors – all five of them, one of whom ended up with a fractured jaw.
By way of an explanation for their actions, one of the Sevilla players simply offered: "They were Beticos". The Betis fans in question saw it rather differently, saying that they had been enjoying a drink only for the Sevilla players to request that they leave the bar due to their green and white shirts.