Echoes of Kolkata in El Gran Derbi of Seville

The Grand Derby of Seville between Real Betis and Sevilla shares uncanny similarities with the Boro Match between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan

December 03, 2022 03:02 am | Updated 03:46 pm IST

No quarters given: The Grand Derby of Seville is always a vigorously contested affair.

No quarters given: The Grand Derby of Seville is always a vigorously contested affair. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

One of the biggest expressions of passion in football is revealed in a derby, which is like a frenzied version of the Oscars ceremony, captivating the audience with the grandness of the occasion. The common thread running through all such rivalries is the intensity of love (for your club) and hatred (for the other). It hardly matters which part of the world one witnesses a derby in, the eruption of emotions of rival supporters provides the incendiary for an explosive contest, both on and off the pitch. This dynamic separates derbies from other football matches.

A visit to Seville, Spain’s Andalusian capital, to watch the La Liga clash between Real Betis Balompie and Sevilla FC, acquaints one with the familiar notes of derby fervour. The picturesque setting — the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria of the See, the Alcazar Palace and the Plaza de Espana add lustre to Seville’s resplendent past — creates a dramatic aura.

A clear split in the loyalties of the residents of the ancient city is evident as they brace for the contest, suspending all other activities. The rivalry is framed against a rich historical and cultural backdrop. Real Betis, based at Estadio Benito Villamarin, draws its support primarily from the working class of the Heliopolis region, while Sevilla, which has its home in Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, has its support base in the richer Nervion district of Seville.

A sociological comparison can be drawn to the century-old conflict between the giants of Kolkata — (ATK) Mohun Bagan and (Emami) East Bengal. Mohun Bagan represents the native population of the city prior to the partition of the country, while East Bengal is the voice of the people forced to emigrate to India post-partition and Independence. There is an uncanny similarity in the passion generated in both the Seville Derby (also called ‘El Gran Derbi’ or The Grand Derby) and the Kolkata Derby, which is also known as the ‘Boro Match’ (the big match).

For the football pilgrim seeking to experience a great rivalry, a visit to Seville will serve the purpose, much like a trip to Kolkata will. In both Seville and Kolkata, the northern part of the city cheers for one team (Sevilla, Mohun Bagan) and the southern part roots for the other (East Bengal, Real Betis).

The likeness extends further to the fact that Sevilla and Mohun Bagan were established within six months of each other. Sevilla was formed in January 1890 and Mohun Bagan was founded in August 1889. The history of both clubs, moreover, has an English flavour. The Spanish club owes its evolution to the efforts of British settlers whereas the Indian club became notable for its victory over East Yorkshire Regiment in the 1911 IFA Shield final, making it the first all-Indian team to win a major title over a British side.

Birth of the opponents

Furthermore, the birth of the respective opponents that engendered the derby rivalry was triggered by incidents involving the original clubs. Real Betis emerged from a rift within Sevilla while the origin of East Bengal was caused by a conflict inside Kolkata club Jorabagan ahead of a match against Mohun Bagan. The founders of both younger clubs sought to have their own identity, sowing the seeds of rivalries that have endured for more than 100 years.

An Indian football fan, especially a Kolkatan, will easily relate to the sights and sounds of El Gran Derbi. Last month, the city saw a riot of green and white as the ‘verdiblancos’ geared up to cheer for Real Betis at Benito Villamarin, which hosted the season’s first derby. The Sevilla supporters, understandably outnumbered, were waiting, no doubt, for their home game.

This is where Kolkata differs, as both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal share the Salt Lake Stadium as their home ground for derby clashes. Both Kolkata clubs have their own grounds but these don’t have the capacity to accommodate both sets of fans in the derby, which sees an attendance of around 70,000, much like the Seville Derby.

Split down the middle: The loyalties of Seville’s residents are clearly divided, with the ancient city coming to a standstill on derby day.

Split down the middle: The loyalties of Seville’s residents are clearly divided, with the ancient city coming to a standstill on derby day. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The seamy side

There are times when vocal cords take a back seat and the ultras of both sides let off steam in a show of violence. The histories of all derbies across the world contain dark days of violence. But the seamy side of the rivalries, which breaks to the surface every now and again, cedes space — if policed well — to celebration. The stadiums become a cauldron of simmering hope. The magnificent chorus of singing, chanting and roaring drives the players to leave it all out on the pitch as they attempt to uphold the faith of the fans who persistently keep the tempo up.

Indeed, it is the undying faith and support of the fans of the two sides of the Andalusian capital that keep the two clubs going amid economic hardship.

“When you buy a car, you buy it according to your budget. The LaLiga giants like Real Madrid and Barcelona have a budget four times higher than us but we are performing well with a lower budget. We deserve credit for that,” says Antonio Cordon, sports director of Real Betis, which is sixth in the league.

Similar hope can be detected in the words of Sevilla FC vice-president Jose Maria del Nido Carrasco, who spoke about how the club managed to rebound from a state of bankruptcy and is now looking at a bright future while planning strategic alliances, one of which is the five-year partnership with former Indian Super League champion Bengaluru FC.

(The writer was in Seville at the invitation of LaLiga)

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