SEVILLA beat Real Madrid 4-3 tonight but were edged out of a Champions League place because Osasuna won as well. I was gutted for them, the team and the fans. That can’t be right.
Sevilla battered Boro four nowt in the UEFA Cup final. They ripped away our Eindhoven dream, stole our destiny, humiliated us on the biggest stage and handed our rivals a supersize stick to beat us with. We should hate them with a passion. We should spit at the very mention of their name. We should brainwash our children into despising them, locking them into a generational spiral of irrational hostility. We should never eat another orange again.
But in fact I watched the game on the box and was urging on the players who ripped us apart. How does that work?
There is a major league love-in going on between Boro fans – the ones who were there at least – and Sevilla. It is totally unprecedented. There was no shirt swapping with Chelsea after they beat us in those finals. Punch swapping maybe. At Cardiff there was mutual indifference to Bolton. And most other European games have seen limited outbreaks of handshakes over the barricades but on the whole a distanced respect. But Sevilla…
Partly it was to do with numbers. In other European matches Boro have travelled in force but seen very few opposition fans until they have reached the stadium. The general public of Lisbon, or Rome or Bucharest were polite and bemused and very friendly but we never mingled on masse with rival fans. And when the opposition came to the Riverside it was in very small numbers, too small to make a mark on the Teesside pysche.
But in Eindhoven Sevilla fans were everywhere. So were Boro. And they were wearing the same colours and the same inane grin of proud anticipation. It was a shared experience. In bars and restaraunts fans sat together buzzing with anticipation and gabbled away freely to strangers. The red tide sloshed between one square and another. Everyone was on a high, barriers dissolved and it was smiles all round. It was brilliant.
In the Sevilla square I spent an hour shaking hands, exchanging pleasantries and discussing how Boro would line-up. Iin English naturally. My Spanish extended to ‘Soy periodista futball Inglese. Me llammo Vic. Cerveza por favour’. That seemed to be enough to have a great time. I came away with a Sevilla scarf swapped for a Smoggy ‘Small Town In Europe’ badge and a lasting impression that these were good people.
There wasn’t the slightest bit of tension and fans mixed along on the road to the stadium and inside the ground too. The neutral areas were packed with groups sat side by side and it is to the credit of both sets of fans that raw emotions never spilled over into animosity or friction.
After the game too they were great. There was no gloating. They were magnanimous in victory and seemed to genuinely feel for us in defeat. “Next time you will win and I will cheer for you,” said one in a bar over a beer hours after the game. And it was sincere too. That was echoed across the city as groups of celebrating Spaniards criss-crossed with deflated Boro fans. Teessiders are to be applauded too. There was no spite, no recriminations and no delusions. They were the better team and we congratulated them honestly without rancour.
In the airport the following day the Sevilla team plonked the UEFA Cup on a table and invited Boro fans to come up and touch it and get their photographs taken with it. Some youngsters got to wear winners medalstoo. There was an element of ‘let’s see what you would have won’ torture to it but it also underlined that the final was a collective experience that Boro fans and Sevilla fans had enjoyed together. It was a nice touch.
It would be nice to build on that. Certainly I will be looking to take a flying visit to Sevilla next season and hope to take in a match and I’m sure other Boro fans will be thinking the same. Sevilla are our Spanish side now. We have adopted them as we adopted Banik. There is a soft spot for Steaua too.
It would be nice if the two clubs can firm up relations too. I’m not asking for the club shop to sell half-and-half beanie hats but a pre-season friendly at the Riverside would be a masterstroke. It may appear to be teasing us bringing the victors onto our turf but it would allow us to relive the dream, gain some revenge and also extend the hand of friendship to a club who shared in a legendary moment in Boro history.