I can’t help liking Real Betis. It might be their role of underdog or their constant toing & froing between divisions. It could also be their classic green & white striped shirts or given my soft spot for unusual stadia, their ridiculously proportioned home, the Estadio Bentio Villamarin. Yep, there is a lot to like about Betis, not least their history that is punctuated with triumphs & calamities, along with a sprinkling of farce.
Real Betis was founded by a splinter section of disgruntled Sevilla FC members on 12 September 1908. They were originally called España Balompié (Balompié being the literal Spanish translation of ball & foot – balón & pie) and set up home at the Campo del Huerto de Mariana. In 1909 they moved to the Campo del Prado de Santa Justa, changing their name to Sevilla Balompié. They were on the move again in 1911, switching to the Campo del Prado de San Sebastián, which was an area of open parkland also used by Sevilla FC. In 1914, the club absorbed a number of smaller teams including Betis Foot-Ball Club, and changed its name to Real Betis Balompié after receiving royal patronage on 17 August 1914. The club continued to use the Campo del Prado de San Sebastián, but in 1918 moved to its first substantial home, the Campo del Patronato Obrero.
The move was necessitated by the decision of the local council to extend the Feria de Abril, using much of the Prado de San Sebastián. Without a home, the council ceded a plot of land to the club called La Huerta del Fraile, which was in the modern day Barrio of Porvenir. The ground was basic and the club, short of funds, used old tables & doors to ensure that the pitch was enclosed. The first match at the new ground took place on 1 November 1918 and pitched Betis against their eternal rivals Sevilla FC, who ran out 1-5 winners. Fortunately for Betis there were happier times ahead. Patronato underwent a major overhaul in 1924 which saw the development of a full length, two-tiered open stand on the west side, and an open terrace on the east. The redevelopment was marked with a friendly against US Sants de Barcelona on 13 December 1924.
In 1928, under the presidency of Ignacio Sanchéz Majias, Patronato underwent further redevelopment. The main west stand gained an 80 metre-long propped roof, and the northern & southern ends were terraced. An eloborate scoreboard was added to the back of the northern terrace, behind which the club built tennis courts. This latest phase of development took the capacity of the ground up to 9,000 and heralded a golden age for the club. Betis won the Andalucian championship in 1928 and was a founder member of La Segunda in 1929. In 1931, Betis became the first club from the south of the country to reach the final of the Copa, losing 1-3 to Athletic Club at Real Madrid’s Campo de Chamartin. Betis won La Segunda title in 1932 and thus became the first club from the south of the country to play in the top tier of Spanish football. However, this was all eclipsed by the achievement of the 1934-35 season.
Under the stewardship of Irishman Partick O’Connell, who had been at the helm since 1931, Betis had developed a strong defensive game, helped by a core of former Basque players who had moved to Andalucia. This strength was reflected in their opening five matches which all resulted in victory with just one goal conceded. Betis hit the top of the league in Week 3, and remained top going into the final fixture, away to Racing Santander. On the evening before the match in Santander, O’Connell met with Racing’s officials, having managed the club for seven seasons from 1922. The next day, Betis romped to a 5-0 victory. Real Madrid protested that O’Connell had bribed his old team to throw the game. Betis in turn, accused Real Madrid of offering Racing a win bonus. The result stood and Betis took their first and to date, only league title.
In 1929 Sevilla staged a major Ibero-American trade fair, which saw the construction of a new stadium in the Heliopolis district of the city. With an 18,000 capacity, this open, square sided arena was ideally suited to the up and coming Betis. Whilst Betis played a few games at Heliopolis and a number of accounts have them in-situ from 1929, the club continued to play their home matches at Patronato until the end of the 1935-36 season. Despite winning the league title, finances at the club were in a poor state and in 1936 the club reached an agreement with the Municipality to effectively swap Heliopolis and in return, the municipality took control of Patronato. The timing of the agreement could not have come at a worse time. Signed on 15 July 1936, the Spanish Civil War began 48 hours later and with it, fighting in the streets of Sevilla. As for Patronato, this continued to be used as a football ground until 1974, before being demolished for garages for the local bus company, although the Real Club de Tenis Betis survives on the Avenida Ramón Carande.