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From the breast to the Bernabéu

Last Saturday was all about Seville and its hundredth derby. The teams played out a 1-1 draw, which seemed about the right result, the Betis president allowed Sevilla fans into the eponymous Luis de Lopera stadium this season, and after the game some Betis fans turned over a few litter bins, set a car alight and broke a few of their own neighbours' windows - but it was all fairly par for the course. Just as well they didn't lose.

Seville is a special place. In Granada and Cordoba they would probably take issue with you, but it is the greatest city of the Spanish south - and in a romantic Carmen, Don Juan-and-Figaro-sort of way it is probably the country's most redolent city. On a hot July's night in Seville you know you're in Spain.

On a cold February night you might be mistaken for thinking you're in a war zone, but the odd thing is that you would never suspect that the city's two football teams could harbour the mutual antipathy that has been festering away for the last hundred years. There seems to be no evidence of any sharp social divide in the city, even if it did once exist. All cities have their poorer neighbourhoods, but the Heliópolis district that houses Betis' stadium - supposedly the 'working-class' team of the city, is now a quite posh-looking district, and Betis themselves are now the more financially stable of the two.

José Antonio Reyes was over at Highbury last weekend for that very reason - Sevilla having been forced to sell off part of the family silver in order to keep the creditors at bay. This was a shame, robbing the country of the sight of its two finest young wingers, on opposite flanks of opposing sides. Reyes - the gypsy king now resident in St Albans came from a poor background and received a minimal education. Joaquín, the one that plays on the right for Betis, is a slightly tubbier but equally skilful player, and has been in the news this week for being a putative galáctico.

Luis Figo, so the story goes, fancies a couple of years at Old Trafford, a move which would leave the right-hand lane clear for the young pup Joaquín. This may well be the case, for Joaquín is an excellent player with characteristics not a mile removed from those of the Portuguese winger. He has a certain distance to travel as yet before he can claim Figo's greatness, but if he does sign for Madrid then he would do well to keep some of the family secrets out of the newspapers.

According to the potted biography of the player that appeared in the papers this weekend (a sure sign that he probably is on his way to the Bernabéu) he was breast-fed by his mother (who else?) up to the ripe old age of six. More graphically the narrative informed us of the fact that when Joaquín started to play competitively at this very age, he would forego the half-time oranges (plenty of those in Seville) for a quick tweak of the maternal paps, apparently unconcerned as to the reaction this would often provoke among his team-mates. As if this wasn't enough, he would tend to refresh himself at full-time as well, just for good measure.

One day, as his father Aurelio was pulling pints in 'The Chinaman' bar, he claimed that he was visited by a doctor keen on hearing first hand the story of the half-time refreshments. The doctor allegedly confirmed that it was the mother's milk that had contributed to making the infant player into such a sturdy boy, and was also the reason why he never seemed to get injured or hurt.

The symbolism of the story was unclear. Were we supposed to connect the mother's milk with the pure white of the Real Madrid strip that now awaits the young winger? Were we to conclude that if Figo had done the same in his infancy he would have been able to carry on at the highest level up to the age of 35, instead of dropping his standards and moving to poor old Manchester United? And what's that bit in Kubla Khan? 'For he on honey dew hath fed / And drunk the milk of Paradise'. From the breast to the Bernabéu - you can see the headlines now - although the tabloid Marca contented themselves with 'De la teta a la Luna' (From the tit to the Moon), which sounded a bit like a nursery rhyme.

Joaquin: Figo replacement?
Joaquin: Figo replacement?

Anyway, it's been a hundred years since Sevilla FC were formed, but they have won a few trophies since. Over in England, Middlesborough had been at it for 128 years without winning one, but finally managed to plonk a cup into the cabinet this weekend after beating Bolton 2-1 in Cardiff in the Carling Cup final.

Of course, they finally managed it with Gaizka Mendieta in the side, who only three years ago was Spain's finest midfielder. He was partnered in the centre at the Millennium Stadium by the Brazilian Juninho and the Dutchman Zenden, another two chaps to have graced the Spanish league at Atlético Madrid and Barcelona respectively - and the three of them were up against Ivan Campo, ex-Mallorca and Real Madrid, and Javi Moreno once of Alavés.

The game received some attention in the Spanish media due to the presence of so many ex-La Liga figurines, but particularly because in the summer of 2000 Campo and Mendieta were on opposing sides in Paris for the final of the Champions League, the Bolton defender winning out on that occasion. It was all downhill for Campo after that, especially after the boo-boys at the Bernabéu caused him to suffer a nervous breakdown which kept him out for the game for six months.

After an initial loan move to Bolton, Campo - of the famously broken teeth and straggly perm - decided to stay, encouraged by the English fans' tendency to support their players, 'even when they make mistakes'. This was for Campo the essential difference between English and Spanish football, and one suspects that he went home a happy bear on Sunday night. So Beckham beware. Since the school year is not over as yet at the Bernabéu he'd better make sure that he doesn't break his teeth or be persuaded by the missus to bring the perm back into fashion.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for poor Valencia, whose goalkeeper Santi Cañizares stumbled around for ninety minutes in Espanyol's Montjuic stadium attempting to discern the flight of the white ball against the snowy Catalan background. His team's attempt to get the ref to change to an orange ball was correctly rejected by the official on the grounds that it would clash with the away team's similarly coloured shirts - surely a first in the annals of professional football. Far from benefiting from the infamous 'political penalty' decision a fortnight ago, the former pretenders to the throne have now slumped to two consecutive defeats whilst Real Madrid continue to disappear over the horizon.

Over in La Coruña, Tristante Oliva - the referee who began their slide into oblivion - was once again in the thick of the action, sending off the wrong player and simultaneously moving his pencil moustache into full twitching mode. At least Barcelona won, saving him from further accusations of pro-Madrid skulduggery. In the snow-bound league of the breast-feeders, never a dull moment.

  • Read White Storm, Phil's brilliant book on Real Madrid. Also available, his splendid story of Spanish football, Morbo.
  • If you've any comments for Phil, email the newsdesk