Like a fading movie star, the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán cannot rely on a soft focus lens to hide the cracks and wrinkles for too much longer.

 

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.

                                                        It still looks fabulous, but no close-ups please

Sevilla Foot-ball Club was founded on 14 October 1905 and over the next 20 or so years, played at three different locations before settling at a massive expanse of land in the Nervion district. The club built a square styled stadium that had a capacity of 12,000 on land rented from the Marquis de Nervion. It featured one large uncovered tribuna and three smaller terraces and opened on 7 October 1928 with a match against cross-city rivals Betis, who had the temerity to win 1-2. The city of Sevilla fell to the Nationalists at the start of the Civil War and whilst Betis' ground was bombed and rendered unplayable, Sevilla, thanks to a sympathetic board of directors, saw the Estadio Nervion become the administrative HQ of the Nationalists. On 29 April 1938, club president Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán signed off the purchase of the land on which the Estadio Nervion stood, along with a further 42,000 square meters that surrounded the stadium for a total of 429,000 pesetas. 

                                              The new stadium rises and leaves the Nervion in the shade

The forward thinking Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán did not rest on his laurels however. 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 Chamartin stadium. By the mid 1950's 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 under way when on 28 October 1956 the club was rocked by the sudden death of president 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 9 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 again, this time by 4 goals to two.

                                        The new stadium in 1959 and all trace of Estadio Nervion has gone.

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 off 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, 

                             The stadium's complete and Sevillistas look forward to mid-table anonymity

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 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.

                                                               Sevilla shows the world what it's got

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. 

                                                               Santiago del Campo's amazing Mosaic

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. For all its uniformity and frankly tired demeanour, I still 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 found of it, although one suspects that this has more to do with their unbeaten record here, rather than appreciation of its sartorial elegance. 

                                    Is there a better looking stadium than the RSP when the sun shines?

There is no denying the fact that the stadium has seen better days. Like a fading movie star, the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán cannot rely on a soft focus lens to hide the cracks and wrinkles for too much longer. The municipality would like the club or Betis to share the Olimpic stadium, a soulless, white elephant that was built on La Cartuja island at the turn of the century. It may prove to be a short-term option should the club 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 enjoy, no celebrate this fantastic stadium because once it's gone, nobody will build another like it.