Sevilla is all about heat and passion. It’s officially Europe’s hottest city and the home of flamenco & Carmen. A couple of times each year the temperature and desire shoot off the scale as Sevilla Fútbol Club and Real Betis Balompié lock horns. Further spice is added to the concoction when you learn that Betis emerged into this world when discontented members of the then-fledgling Sevilla FC, left to form their own club in 1908. When it comes to global warming, this corner of Andalucia has a lot to answer for.
Football had been played in Sevilla for nearly 20 years prior to this incident, earlier in fact than the Basque country. On 8 March 1890, workers from the Rio Tinto mining company and various shipping firms, joined forces under the name of Huelva Club Recreacion to play Sevilla Foot-ball Club at the Hipódromo de Tablada. It was the first recorded instance of two clubs playing each other on Spanish soil. Over the next 15 years, British companies and ex-patriots were at the forefront of matches played in and around the Andalucian capital, and gradually, the Spanish community became involved. Sevilla Foot-ball Club was formally set up on 14 October 1905 and set about finding a new home. You can read about the early years and of course its stadia, such as the Campo de Nervión here. This story moves on to the mid-1950s and a man who shaped the club as we know it today, one Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán Muñoz.
The forward-thinking Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán had been club president since 1932 and had overseen the club’s 1945-46 La Liga title and 3 wins in the Copa. He recognised that the club would require a larger stadium if they were going to compete and sent a fact-finding delegation to Real Madrid to quiz them about their new stadium. By the mid-1950s the club had amassed a 50 million peseta war chest, specifically set aside for the building of a stadium on the land purchased nearly 20 years earlier. Designed by Manuel Muñoz Monasterio, who had collaborated on the Nuevo Chamartin, work was underway when on 28 October 1956, the club was rocked by the sudden death of president Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. Work continued, but progress was hampered by the quality of the subsoil. Over 800 concrete piles had to be sunk before construction of the main body of the stadium could commence, and it soon became obvious that their war chest would only cover a third of the costs. The new stadium opened on 7 September 1958 with a friendly against Real Jaen. Two weeks later, Sevilla played Betis in the first league match at the stadium, which Betis won by 4 goals to two.
The new stadium, named Estadio Sánchez Pizjuán in honour of the late president, had become quite literally, a money pit. As a result, the original plans were scaled back, leaving a 53,000 capacity stadium instead of the original plans for a 70,000 arena. On opening, the stadium consisted of a single tier around all four sides and two anfiteatros on either side. In fact, it took a further 17 years and 78 million pesetas to complete the upper-end terraces and fill in the corners, raising the capacity to 70,000. The cost of the stadium meant that Sevilla could not continue to compete at the very highest level and league form throughout the sixties was distinctly patchy, culminating in relegation to La Segunda in 1968. It was a brief visit and a season later on their return to the top division, Sevilla finished third. This was a temporary peak for by the end of the 1971-72 season the club was back in La Segunda, where they would stay for three seasons.
Over the next twenty years, the club racked up a succession of mid-table finishes, never coming remotely close to winning anything. It has to be said, that for all the passion and grandeur that surrounds both Sevilla and Betis, the return in terms of trophies is pretty paltry. Maybe this parsimonious return has intensified the rivalry, as the Sevilla derby does often have a status that belies the participants’ actual success. Whilst there have been numerous incidents of bad blood between the factions, there are also many contradictions, including Betis using Sevilla’s stadium in 1982 whilst their own ground was redeveloped and Sevilla receiving its only support from Betis when the club was threatened with a demotion in 1995. The social lines have also become blurred in recent times. The traditional view was that Sevilla was the club of Nationalist supporting middle classes, whilst Betis had a left-wing, working-class following. In truth, you will find supporters of both clubs in every conceivable walk of Sevilla life, even within the same family.
The next major change to the stadium came in the build-up to the 1982 World Cup. The main addition was the erection of a roof over the Tribuna. Whilst simple in design, it is also stunningly elegant, balanced on stilts high above the upper tier of seating. A retaining wall had to be built to support the cantilevered roof and it is on the centre portion of this wall, above the main entrance, that an eye-catching Mosaic stands. Created by local artist and Sevillista, Santiago del Campo, it depicts the club crest and the shields of 60 other clubs who have visited the stadium. New floodlights were also added, but instead of towers, they sit on gantries around the top of the bowl and along the fascia of the roof. The addition of extra seats and improved media facilities saw the capacity drop to 66,000. Surprisingly, the stadium only hosted two matches at WC’82, the first round clash between Brazil & USSR and the memorable semi-final between Germany & France. Four years later, the instantly forgettable European Cup Final between Barcelona & Steaua Bucharest was played at the stadium.
Over the past 30 years, very little has changed has so far as the stadium is concerned. The UEFA all-seater ruling saw the capacity cut initially to 45,000, then drop to 44,000 for Champions League games. Off the pitch, things have been far from sedate as the club has put their fans through the emotional mangle. More mediocrity followed in the 1980s and 1990s, although the club escaped demotion at the eleventh hour in 94-95 when they did not submit accounts to the federation. Relegation to La Segunda followed in 1997 and although they returned to La Primera in 1999, they dropped back to the second division a year later. Then with a strong base of homegrown players, Sevilla began to re-establish itself in La Primera. Regular European football was rewarded with back to back UEFA Cup victories in 2006 & 07 and the club made regular appearances in the Champions League. The Copa del Rey was also won in 2007 and again in 2010. All in all, Sevilla won six trophies in a four-year spell, the most productive period in the club’s history. More success in UEFA’s Europa League followed in 2014 & 15.
For all its uniformity and until recently, frankly tired demeanour, I love the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. You see this stadium has an aura about it, that when full, makes it one of Europe’s most intimidating arenas. Add to that the sleek lines of the roof and the brilliant contrast between the green of the pitch, the red & white of the seats and the deep azure of the Andalucian sky and you have one sexy stadium. It’s not just me and the faithful of Sevilla Fútbol Club who like the stadium, La Selección is also rather fond of it, although one suspects that this has more to do with their unbeaten record here, rather than appreciation of its sartorial elegance.
During the summer of 2015, Sevilla decided that their home needed major refurbishment. All 43,000 seats were replaced and arranged to form club insignia and slogans (as well as sponsor logos!). New media facilities, mixed zone, medical area & club store were also added in time for the start of the 2015-16 season. Phase two of the revamp saw the outside of the stadium clad in a mesh (as at Valencia’s Mestalla) that feature images of the club’s trophies, legends and a tribute to Antonio Puerta, the midfielder who passed away during a match at the Sánchez Pizjuán in 2007. In the summer of 2018, further changes were made to the lower tier, which saw some vomitories closed and another 950 seats added.
There is no denying the fact that the stadium has seen better days. The recent make-over has breathed new life into the Sánchez Pizjuán, but like a fading movie star, it cannot rely on make-up and a soft focus lens to hide the cracks and wrinkles for too much longer. The municipality would like the club and/or Betis to use the Estadio Olimpico on La Cartuja, a soulless white elephant that was built on an island in the Rio Guadalquivir at the turn of the century. It may prove to be a short-term option should the club fully redevelop the current stadium. With little in the way of funds, however, selling the land on which the stadium stands may prove to be the most likely outcome, but only once the economy picks up. In the meantime, let’s celebrate this fantastic stadium because once it’s gone, nobody will build another like it.