Photo courtesy of Daniel Silber
For the past three months, I’ve been fortunate enough to call the beautiful city of Seville, Spain my home. Before my semester abroad began, a few stereotypes perpetuated my beliefs of Europeans and life in Europe. Although I can dispel many of them (no, not all Spaniards sleep their afternoons away with a siesta), one thing I can confirm is this: Europeans are CRAZY when it comes to fútbol. For those of you who’ve never stepped foot off of U.S. soil, that’s soccer, and it is the most popular sport and one of the most polarizing aspects of the culture in nearly every part of the world.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Silber
As a certified sports fanatic, nothing gets me going like a close game, an energizing fan base, and an electric atmosphere. Last night, I was provided all three of those as my friends and I made the trek down to Nervión in Seville along with thousands of other Sevilla F.C. followers to Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. In the streets surrounding the stadium, thousands of supporters wrapped their soccer scarves around their collars, pulled out their oversized bottles of beer, and began to botellón. The verb “botellón” is defined as “open-air drinking season,” but for all intents and purposes, to botellón is to drink in public. It is not legal, but as the picture below suggests, it is not even remotely enforced (sorry Mom). As the clock approached the 9:05 PM kickoff, a layer of empty bottles and broken glass covered the streets and the crowd became rowdier as the chants of ¡SEVILLA! grew louder and more frequent. Hundreds of uniformed police officers and security guards in bright yellow vests stood along the streets, but their role was limited to that of spectators and protectors. Twenty minutes to go, and the swarms of people decked out in red and white marching into the stadium might’ve been pulled straight out of a scene from downtown Madison, Wisconsin on a crisp Saturday morning in late September.

• • •

As we passed through the turnstiles and approached the entrance to our section, the buzz grew to a feverish pitch. We stepped through the vestibule and the perfectly groomed, perfectly green pitch lay before us in all its glory. The sun was rapidly disappearing and the stadium was now lit strictly by the giant overhead lights. We moved further and further down until…yes, it was no mistake, these were actually our seats: two rows back, sidled right along the midfield line. Straight in the belly of the beast.

The players had taken the field for what promised to be an extremely competitive match. This was the first leg of a matchup between Sevilla F.C. and Russian powerhouse Zenit St. Petersburg in the Europa League (the second tier of UEFA, but nonetheless still great teams) quarterfinals. For those unfamiliar with the format, the two teams play twice, one at each team’s home stadium, with the winner decided by aggregate score. Defending the home turf would be crucial, and Sevilla fans were up to the task of protecting their house. As the teams met at midfield to put the ball into play, the roar of the crowd hit a new level. And then the ball was put into play.

The first 20 minutes featured a lot of possession by Sevilla, but no real good opportunities. You had to feel good about the odds that Sevilla would capitalize on one of those opportunities. And then suddenly – a break by Zenit, a shot ripped and blocked by the Sevilla keeper, and the rebound sent into the back of the net. The crowd watched as the Zenit players celebrated on their field. But they did not boo their team. A minute later, the crowd was back into the action, pushing their players with a new enthusiasm and sense of purpose. You see, Sevilla FC hasn’t lost at home in 33 consecutive matches. That’s over a year without losing a match within the confines of their home stadium. This includes last Saturday when they managed to recover from an early 2-0 deficit at the hands of F.C. Barcelona, the consensus best team in the world, and score a late equalizer to force a draw and shake the balance at the top of the La Liga (Spanish League) standings. So despite entering halftime trailing, Sevilla was not about to give up now.

Speaking of halftime, one of the stranger things I’ve experienced at a sporting event occurred at this point. Not ten seconds after the referee blew his whistle to end the first half, the Spaniards in the stands pulled out of their bags and purses aluminum foil-wrapped bocadillos(sandwiches). As I looked around at the Sevillanosof all ages, from children to men and women in their sixties, the bocadillos were everywhere; all nearly identical baguettes of bread loaded with slices of meat and cheese and wrapped in aluminum foil. It’s just not something you would ever see at sporting event in the States, and that alone makes it culturally shocking. I could elaborate on how this represents the Spanish economy and people in today’s society, but I really think it has just as much to do with the fact that they really, really enjoy bocadillos, especially in comparison to stadium food.
Photo courtesy of Daniel Silber – Bocadillo time
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Early in the second half, Sevilla was on the attack once again, forcing Zenit’s defense to concede corner after corner. Although they never scored directly from a corner kick, the 22 on the day kept Zenit’s defenders and goalkeeper on edge throughout the match.

Then, finally, a breakthrough: in the 73rd minute, Alex Vidal pushed the ball up the right side, made his way to the end line, and chipped the ball back into the crowd of players. There was just enough space for Carlos Bacca, Sevilla’s recently inserted Colombian forward to stick his head out and redirect the ball into the back of the net. GOLLLLLLLLLLL. The equalizer leveled the score to 1-1. The crowd went nuts as we jumped up and down high-fiving each other and those around us. Then, a rousing chant began. We didn’t know the words to the fight song, but we were able to join in on the extended “SEVILLAAAAAAA” at the end of the chant.

From then on, the momentum continued in Sevilla’s favor. They forced even more corners, not only maintaining possession, but also keeping it in Zenit’s half of the pitch for much of the time. Throughout the match, Zenit had stalled on numerous occasions, in no hurry to take their corners or to make substitutions and taking ages to kick the ball back into play. The crowd was fed up and let the Zenit players know it, too. With the rising pressure in the stadium came increasingly chippy play; a few fouls drew deserved yellow cards, and a Zenit player was even carried off on a stretcher as he exited the game.

With just 5 minutes remaining and a draw looming, Sevilla once again came on the attack. After a hell of a series of shots and deflections, the ball was sent flying through the air towards the right side of the box. All eyes in the stadium moved to Sevilla’s Denis Suarez, as he settled himself from about 18 yards out and wound up his right leg like a spring ready to explode. And then, it happened. With one thundering volley he sent the ball careening through the box, past the outstretched goalkeeper, and into the left wall of the netting. 2-1, Sevilla!!! The noise from the celebration in the crowd covered the city of Sevilla, as the locals went insane from the go-ahead goal.
Photo courtesy of Zach Rosen – Sevillanos react to the go ahead goal

The final few minutes played out with Sevilla mostly maintaining possession, and shortly thereafter the game was over. The crowd erupted into applause with the referee’s final whistle, and the Sevilla players in turn looked to the crowd and returned the favor.

• • •

Walking out of the stadium and through the streets of Sevilla was reminiscent to spilling through the Camp Randall arch onto Monroe Street following a Badger victory. No care in the world, just thousands of fans proud to be celebrating in unison for a common cause. Last night, I was proud to be celebrating as a sevillano.