There are many strange sights in pre-season friendlies but for supporters of Stoke City and Sunderland seeing Spartans supporters following Real Betis must rank at the top of any list. However as Spartans supporter Simon Needham explains the links with the Spanish club are becoming more and more prominent.
Spanish club Real Betis Balompie were in Northumberland last week and fans of Blyth Spartans were on hand to give them a welcome to the region.
The Liga Adelante team, recently relegated from Spain’s top flight, embarked on a three game pre-season tour of England and Scotland after setting up camp here in the North East at Slaley Hall’s prestigious hotel and training facilities outside Hexham.
The side from Seville, Andalucía, started their campaign with an impressive 3-0 victory over Scottish oufit Motherwell on 2nd August. However they found the going more difficult against Premiership opposition, with a 2-0 defeat against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium last Wednesday and a similar scoreline against Sunderland at Heritage Park, Bishop Auckland the following day, before flying back to Spain last Friday.
The tour gave the many Betis fans living here in the UK the chance to see their team, and that included supporters of our own “Blyth Spartans – Real Betis Peña Betica.”
The group was formed three years ago by Blyth fans keen on Spanish football and looking to build links and friendships with the Spanish team and is based on our joint tradition of the famous green and white striped kit. When the tour was announced we made sure that we had a presence at two of the games and this happened at Stoke and against Sunderland.
As Peña Secretary I made the long journey down to Stoke last Wednesday, carrying the group´s banner, along with an assortment of Real Betis and Blyth Spartans flags which were proudly displayed in the Britannia Stadium.
Then it was back up to Newcastle to meet up with other Blyth fans and a number of Spanish Real Betis fans living and working here in the region, to travel in a small fleet of cars to Heritage Park in Bishop Auckland to see the Sunderland game.
Despite the 2-0 defeat, The group had a very enjoyable evening, with the highlight coming through the Peña’s link to the “Patrick O´Connell Memorial Campaign” and the presentation before the match of a Real Betis shirt, signed by members of the squad, and an Ireland shirt signed by Sunderland hero Charlie Hurley, to raise funds for the cause. The group received the handover of the shirts on the pitch before the game from Real Betis legend and former President, Rafael Gordillo.
As for the season ahead, the feeling amongst Betis fans is that their team is in transition, with some quality players from last season staying at the club (for example strikers Ruben Castro and Jorge Molina, plus goalkeeper Adan) and many talented youngsters now making the step up into the side. This is happening under the guidance of a new, highly rated young manager Julio Velazquez.
As for the Blyth Peña, the match at Bishop Auckland was a great chance to publicise the link up between the two clubs in the region, with a number of Blyth Spartans and Real Betis flags decorating the stadium which provoked a slightly bemused, but generally interested and supportive response from the Sunderland fans.
And the group also spent time getting to know the Betis fans from the region, and plan to build links and friendships further with the Spanish community by inviting them to a game at Blyth in the near future.
With Blyth Spartans signing forward Sammy Perez in the past week there is definitely a Spanish flavour to life at Croft Park!