It’s been a good week for Sevilla on their 129TH birthday, after 4 weeks without winning in the league. First they defeated Barcelona 2-0 in midweek in the King’s Cup (they go to the Camp Nou on Wednesday for the 2nd leg) and followed it up with a 5-0 thrashing of Levante on Saturday. Maybe they like those azulgrana colours to play against, all of a sudden. They’re still some distance from the top spot – 13 points to be precise, but there’s a happy look about them at the moment which suggests they can hang on to their Champions League spot and continue to challenge Real Madrid who are just above them. They might even make it to the next round of the cup.
Sevilla are a scary side at home, in the Sánchez Pizjuan. One suspects that they always have been, despite the odd fact that on each occasion that they built a new ground – the Nervión in 1928 and the Pizjuan in 1958 –, neighbours Betis mysteriously showed up on the fixture list to help the inauguration games, and won both times. Be that as it may, Sevilla are fast and furious on home soil, hollered along by their excitable supporters.
Away from home they’re much less intimidating, as the data suggests this season, with only three wins to show for their travels. Like Atlético (who also have 3) it seems a poor return for a side in such a lofty position, but that’s the pattern of the Spanish scene this campaign. They’ve only lost once at home and conceded a mere six goals. There’s a wonderful moment from the Levante game on Saturday where the visitors’ attack breaks down and Sevilla hare down the pitch on a counter which leaves them with six players against one measly Levante defender – but amazingly they fail to score. It was about the only time that they did fail, and they go into the 2nd leg at Barcelona with their morale sky-high.
There has been a lot of stuff on the web this week celebrating Sevilla’s alleged 129th birthday, which is interesting. This founding date of 1890 would establish the club, were this to be ratified by the country in general, as the second oldest in the Spanish league, beaten to it by less than a year by fellow Andaluz team Recreativo Huelva, officially regarded as the country’s football founders – or the ‘Decano’ as they call it here. Not only does it lend Sevilla this status, it also knocks back Athletic Bilbao (1898) and Barcelona (1899) in the founding rankings. Is this important? Well yes, frankly. The Spanish are quite pernickety about this sort of stuff, as opposed to the Brits for example, who tend to view the 19th century as a sort of messy pre-statistical period with so many clubs around that it hardly mattered. The relative scarcity of clubs in Spain at that time has increased the public’s sense of the historical significance of their clubs’ foundation dates, and the status this can afford them.
I was asked to write the history of Spanish football for the British market back at the turn of the millennium, and since this had not been done before I felt it was my responsibility to get the facts right – in a period when the internet was not quite so immediate in its fact-provision as nowadays. In the subsequent book (‘Morbo’) I wrote the date of the club’s foundation as 1905, although they were rubber-stamped as Sevilla Balompié in 1907, the club from which Betis were then founded in a breakaway move in 1909. These dates are quite some time after 1890, and the argument over which date is correct rather depends on how you define an act of ‘foundation’ .
Back in 1890 in Andalucia, there were pockets of expatriate British workers in the Rio Tinto mines but also in the waterworks at Seville, a fact which gave rise to the first documented game (not quite true, but anyway) on Spanish soil between the expat workers from Seville and the side formed down in Huelva the year before. Sevilla won 2-0 (in case you were dying to know) but the documentation of this ‘foundation’ is rather curious – basically the publication of the letter of invitation and of the game in the newspaper ‘La Provincia’. Without wishing to annoy Sevilla fans far and wide, a foundation date usually comes accompanied with a document ratified by a local municipal authority, in which the club’s existence (as a commercial or sporting entity) is endorsed. This was the case with Huelva in 1889, but not with Sevilla, until 1905. This was the date when the club’s ‘articles of association’ (a legal concept) were officially ratified.
Again, far from wishing to annoy anybody here, you could argue that unless this type of act rubber-stamps the foundation date, then it potentially becomes something of a historical free-for-all. Indeed, there are clubs that still dispute the Huelva supremacy, namely Palamós FC from Catalonia and a team from deepest Galicia whose name escapes me. There was also the ‘Exiles Club’ founded in 1876 by English cable and telegraph workers near Vigo in Galicia.
They certainly played matches against other visiting foreigners, but their lack of current inheritors to their name has rubbed them from the historical records. But their claim, although they never made one, might have been equally valid. For your further nerdy interest, historians note that the first game to be played on Spanish soil was in 1873 – and not in 1890 – in the Galician port of Vilagarcía, a game reported on by the Eco Republicano de Compostela on June 26th of that year. So there you have it. I’m afraid I don’t have the score. Sevilla, therefore, appear to have reinvented Spanish football history a little here, if I may be so bold as to say. Also, it might have been more seemly to have waited until their 130th year to celebrate their birthday, but anyway – it’s their party and they’ll holler if they want to.
Back in the present, I witnessed an awful game at Real Sociedad’s Anoeta on a foul Sunday night, ending in a 0-0 draw with bottom club Huesca. The game was excruciating, not helped by the appalling conditions, but it was difficult to understand Huesca’s bus-parking. The only way they can possibly climb up the rankings is to go for the three points.
Real Sociedad are notoriously poor at breaking down bus-parkers, and apart from the fact that I almost froze, it was a lamentable spectacle. Less lamentable was Real Madrid’s performance at Espanyol (2-4), although the home side, like faithful pet dogs, traditionally roll over and ask for their bellies to be rubbed when Real Madrid come to town. Whether this was the case or not on Sunday (and Espanyol are on a frighteningly poor run), the news is that Benz is back – well for this week anyway.
Karim’s performance against Espanyol was so startlingly good that it makes you wonder what he had for breakfast. The hosts simply couldn’t cope with him. He scored two, should have scored about five, and did stuff that was at times quite remarkable. Even Gareth Bale scored, with a bit of nifty footwork, and for the first week for some time, it was not Vinicius who was making the headlines. Is the crisis over? We shall see. Varane was sent off – to darken the evening, and Ramos limped off injured. They visit Girona on Thursday in the 2nd leg of the King’s Cup, with a 4-2 lead from the Bernabéu but short of centre-backs. It could be interesting.
Talking of Girona, they lost the Miami Vice match 0-2 in their own modest Montilivi stadium, instead of in the ‘Hard Rock’ stadium in Florida that could have pulled in 65,000 spectators – 13,000 packing out the Catalan locale. The Spanish sports tabloid ‘Marca’ seemed to be bewailing the fact that the RFEF had not gone along with Javier Tebas’ idea, and that it still might come to fruition in the future. Marca seem to be quite fond of Tebas, and have decided that they need to suck up to him whenever possible, since they know on which side their bread is buttered, certainly for the future. Meanwhile, sense prevails and Barcelona remain top of the tree after a considerably shorter journey to Girona, keeping them just ahead of Atlético who won again (2-0 at home to Getafe) but with only 12 first-teamers fit for the cause.
It’s a potentially tricky week for Barcelona, first against Sevilla and then at home to an improving Valencia at the weekend. I’ll be at the Basque derby between Real Sociedad and Athletic, which should be better than the game I saw tonight. Until next week.