Back a few years ago when I was ‘celebrating’ the big ‘Four-O’ and contemplating the all-too-swift progression towards middle age, Mrs Football Nerd asked me what I wanted to do to mark the occasion. Never one that was likely to settle into a more sedate and relaxed way of life but definitely someone who could think of no better way of celebrating any occasion, I immediately suggested that the only way to spend it was by heading off on a football adventure. After reluctantly having to rule out a trip to the Maracana in Rio due it being closed for refurbishment ahead of the World Cup, we plumped for the Camp Nou and a chance to watch Barcelona.
That trip exceeded our anticipation to such an extent that it sparked an almost addictive passion for weekend football trips across Europe that seems to intensify with each passing year. Within our yearly schedule of trips, December is usually reserved for Spain as much because of the more temperate weather at that time of year. Over the years we have been back to watch Barça on a number of occasions and to the Bernabéu and the much-mourned Vicente Calderón in Madrid, the Mestalla in Valencia and the new San Mamés in Bilbao. A few years back we also managed to work in a trip to watch Real Betis, then in the second division, at the Estadio Benito Villamarín. So when it came time to pick this season’s December Spanish football trip the one glaring omission amongst the biggest names in Spanish football was Sevilla Fútbol Club, to give it its full title.
A quick glance at the fixture list revealed that they were indeed at home on the weekend in question, so we booked our flights selected our hotel and began the anxious wait for the confirmation of the kick off date and time. For those unfamiliar with Spanish Football’s approach to scheduling, all games are listed as being on the Sunday of each weekend with the final confirmation often coming as little as two weeks or less before the match. Experience dictates that it is therefore best to book the entire weekend rather than risk missing the match.
We arrived in Sevilla on Friday evening just in time to head to our hotel, drop the bags in and head out to explore our neighbourhood, the lively Alameda area, have a few cervezas and of course the compulsory tapas meal including: Solomillo al Whisky (pork in whisky, which is actually brandy, sauce) and patatas bravas.
Saturday was football-free so we did what all football fans without a game to go to do and whiled away the day wandering around town, pausing for regular refreshment pit-stops (read more cerveza and tapas!) and generally absorbing the ‘culture’ of the fabulously picturesque capital of Andalusia.
Sunday was matchday and the aforementioned schedule-planners had thrown us a bit of a wobbly one, whereas our previous Spanish football experiences had all been evening games ranging from 6pm to 10pm (yes that is 22:00!) kick-offs ,this time our match was scheduled for a noon start and the highly unusual prospect of going to a match stone cold sober.
Eschewing the advice of our friendly hotel manager Gustavo, who had said that the ground was a good forty-five minutes away on foot and therefore too far to walk, we decided that given it was too early for pre-match drinking, this was a good option for us to kill time until kick-off.
With Mrs Football Nerd being very much au fait with all things 21st century, as opposed to yours truly who remains steadfastly stuck in the dark ages, she fired up Google maps and we set off on a not unpleasant stroll towards the ground, arriving just under an hour before the match was due to get underway. We headed to a café bar immediately across the street from our entrance, as we placed our order at the bar somehow, almost subliminally, we found that we had ordered two small cañas of beer, oh well it had been a long-ish walk!
Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán is relatively low-rise compared to the other Spanish stadiums we had experienced, so much so that the missus, who has a chronic fear of heights, remarked that she was pleased that it didn’t look too high. Little did we know what to expect once inside a ground that is colloquially nicknamed ‘La Bombonera’!
Once inside all seemed to be going well as we located our entrance with the help of a steward and then started to climb our way up to row 14. It soon became apparent that all was not well in the Football Nerd camp. The missus had frozen to the spot out of sheer fear as we cut across a slightly lower row for ease of access. In fairness the stadium was in fact so steep that it was vertigo inducing for those of us usually more comfortable operating at height. It soon became clear that there was no way we were going to be able to watch the match together from our lofty perch.
The better half suggested that she was going to have to leave the stadium but that I could stay to watch the match. To my eternal shame I was more than comfortable with that arrangement, although I did suggest that we ask one of the stewards if there was any way we could take up a seat lower down.
As we re-entered the safer confines of the concourse I spied the entrance to one of the corporate lounges and went to enquire of the hostess and accompanying steward whether we could be moved. Fully anticipating being told that we would have to wait until the match got underway to see if there were spare seats that were more suitable. To his immense credit and my wife’s eternal gratitude the steward understood immediately the trauma of the situation and that we weren’t simply trying it on in an attempt to get a better seat. He led us straight to the VIP section where his colleague allocated us two seats in the back row that were kept in reserve for staff, or indeed other fans affected by the architectural design of the stadium!
Seville is an absolute hotbed of football with the locals demanding to know if you are a Betico (Real Betis fan) or Sevillista (Sevilla fan) almost upon arrival. Having previously declared herself a loyal follower of Los Verdiblancos (the green and whites of Betis), Mrs Football Nerd decided that after the kind treatment she had received from their city rivals there was no way she could carry through her previous threat of supporting Sevilla’s opponents, in this case Girona.
As the teams emerged to the traditional Himno Del Sevilla (to get a feel for this look it up on Youtube), with every single fan in the place singing along with scarves raised aloft; we were both tangibly relieved that we had stayed for the match. For all our football-watching travels neither of us had witnessed such a spectacularly passionate atmosphere even before a ball had been kicked.
Unfortunately the game itself was a bit of a damp squib and didn’t live up to the standards the brilliant support, who never stopped for the entire match, deserved; with profligate finishing and wasteful concession of possession by the home team throughout. In fairness Girona were probably the better side, looking consistently dangerous on the counter.
Our newly adopted side eventually got their act together and sealed the three points with an Éver Banega penalty and a strike from Pablo Sarabia before and after the hour mark, a victory that surprisingly put them in second place in the table ahead of Atlético Madrid on goal difference and just three points behind predictable leaders Barcelona.
As we departed the ground we reflected on a brilliant football experience if not the highest quality match we had ever witnessed. As it was raining we hailed a cab and headed for the Old Town for some excellent Basque-style pinchos as tourists visiting Spain do and then to the nearby Irish bar to watch Arsenal lose to Southampton and Liverpool beat Manchester United, as football obsessives visiting anywhere in the world do.
We spent the Monday, our final day, doing what we had done throughout by enjoying as much of the excellent tapas, cerveza and vino tinto as we could possibly fit in before heading home. We both know we will be back; the only question being which of all the fantastic cities in Spain we have visited is in line for a return or whether to try somewhere new? At least we have twelve months to make up our minds!