On June 21st last year, a day or two after a 4-0 win over Levante failed to prove enough to lift Betis above fourth position in last season's final Segunda classification, a certain overwrought Bético wrote of the tears that had flooded the then Estadio Manuel Ruíz de Lopera:
If you think that all that salt water was shed over one piffling missed promotion, you've probably stumbled onto this page by mistake. Real Betis Balompié is a football club in a kind of self-induced coma, only kept alive by the efforts of the 55,000 besotted fans present on Saturday, and hundreds of thousands more around the world, all of whom understand better what the club represents than do any of the rogues and simpletons that make up its administration. Yep, it's more than enough to make you want to weep.
Things are just a little bit different today. Thanks to Judge Mercedes Alaya, a number of Bético lawyers, president Rafael Gordillo, the board of directors that came to power on December 13th, Pepe Mel and some very good footballers, the club hasn't just woken up from its coma but is now dancing Sevillanas on a tabletop. It's not just about the football - which at times this year has been as exhilarating as it's ever likely to get at this level - but also the whole ethos of the club. Betis are supposed to be nice and cuddly - everyone in Spain's favourite "other" team - but with Lopera locked in his bunker railing against the world, that was impossible. Little by little, however, the club is recovering everything: its reputation, its spirit and its place in the upper echelons of Spanish football.
But don't just take my word for it. Yesterday ABC de Sevilla journalist Ramón Román wrote an article entitled "Being Betis once again" celebrating exactly this. I don't often translate whole chunks of Spanish, but I think this piece deserves to be read.
Betis will be in Primera next season. There’s no need to be scared to say this openly, however superstitious you might be. The verdiblanco squad took a giant step forward against Barcelona B, the opposition that beforehand looked the most difficult of those remaining for Mel’s men over the rest of the season. The main worry for fans now is knowing when the actual promotion party will happen, whether it’ll require a journey far from Heliópolis or a ticket to to fill the Benito Villamarín. Soon the 104-year-old club of the 13 stripes will get back, in sporting terms, the place it should never have left – although, fortunately, on an institutional level the recovery has been quicker.
Promotion began in the last week of August with Pepe Mel at the head of a ship in which the stand-out figures have been players like Emaná, Rubén Castro and Jorge Molina. Along the way, footballers like Iriney and Nacho have also been rediscovered. And, most important, new ones, such as Beñat and Ezequiel have been “created”. But the return of Betis – the club of “manquepierda”, “Musho Betis” or Real Betis Balompié (whichever one you prefer), began on December 13th, when a group of Béticos, some better known than others, decided to rescue an institution and a feeling that had been kidnapped for the last few years. The treatment of the fans changed, as did the treatment of the name of the club itself, while all those characters who were only looking for personal gain disappeared. One only needs to consider three examples to see how this is working to perfection.
In the first place, the number of season-ticket holders - as well as the number of fans coming each week to Heliópolis - has increased in scarcely five months. Second, the image of the club projected to the outside world has changed completely, so much so that last night you could hear the presenter of a national television programme say, “I really want Betis to come up to Primera – it’s everyone’s team.” And finally, the faithful verdiblanco infantry in the Mini Estadi managed to sweep up everyone present their happiness and create a Mexican wave, an image that wasn’t so strange not so long ago either in the Benito Villamarín or away from home. The bets are on as to whether it will be against Tenerife, Nástic, Huesca or Alcorcón. But Béticos can rest easy. When Betis return to Primera, they will be doing so as the Betis of old.
(Bottom pic from Betisweb)