The Cardenal greets the players.

HISTORY / The Cardinal’s visit

The day before a match against Espanyol, Real Betis players were visited by Cardinal Bueno Monreal

By Manolo Rodríguez

On the eve of a match against RCD Espanyol, Real Betis players received a quite special visit. The Cardinal-Archbishop of Seville, José María Bueno Monreal, went to see them in the pre-match meeting. Nothing less than a Catholic Church Prince. Something rarely seen in football.

It happened on Saturday the 16th of December of 1967 and it raised many comments in the city and the media. Specially because that meeting occurred in a building that belonged to the Church.

More precisely, the meeting was held in the Umbrete Seminary (current Marcelo Spinola School), place chosen by the Green and Whites to prepare their game against the Catalan side. It was an Archiepiscopal Palace built in the 18th Century for the residence and retreat of archbishops and old priests.

Betis got there in the 1967/68 season due to a series of unexpected events. At the beginning of that season, the team managed by César Rodríguez used to do the pre-match meetings in Hotel Oromana, in Alcalá de Guadaira, a city in the outskirts of Seville. However, César was dismissed after the seventh game and Pepe Valera, one of the great names in Betis history, took the helm.

Valera made his debut at Bernabéu. Then he gathered the team again at Oromana when Malaga came to play at Villamarín and the following season the first derby of the season against Sevilla was going to be played. Then, Betis had the conundrum of choosing another place for the meeting before the derby, as the rival also used to gather at Oromana and had preference as they were playing at home.

In fact, that wasn't something new, as this had happened many times in the past. In these situations, the Club would opt for taking the team to Jerez or other city far from Seville in order to isolate the team and bring calm before such an important date.

However, this time, Valera decided to hold the pre-match meeting at the Umbrete Seminar. Valera was a well-connected man with all the sectors of the city. This allowed him to have the Umbrete Palace open for Real Betis Balompié.

This measure was made with total discretion. So much that it was not publicly announced. The journalists obviously knew it and some respected the pact of silence and others (a few) told it. The idea was to not disturb the priests who lived there and avoid that the fans attended the venue.

The players from that time recall it as a quiet place but really cold, in spite that every room had a heater that, apparently, was not enough. The morning prior to the match, the players crossed the street and had a coffee in the bars in front the palace. Like any other neighbour.

The derby was won by Betis 2-3 thanks to goals from González, Quino y Landa. Seven days later, the team was hosting Real Sociedad. Superstitious as most of the sportsmen are, Valera decided to hold the pre-match meeting in Umbrete and ditch Oromana.

And they won again. 4-1 this time, with a memorable performance from Quino, who scored two goals and left a great impression. Again, González and Landa completed the score sheet. This time, maybe because they were happy with the talisman of the seminar and because the match against Real Sociedad didn't create the same expectation as the derby, the papers informed about the place where Betis were gathered.

The next match was at Zaragoza, where the team lost after three straight wins. The next one was at home against Espanyol and it was, by the way, the first time a Real Betis game was going to be broadcasted live.

On Saturday the 16th of December of 1967, the team gathered again at the Umbrete Seminar. Fourteen players. Goalkeepers Villanova and Campillo; defenders Aparicio, Telechía, Antón, and Pachón; midfielders Azcárate, Dioni, and Frasco; and strikers Macario, Quino, Landa, González, and Cristo. When the team played at home, the players did not have to wear any official clothing. However, they were asked to do so this team: blue blazer with the crest on the left pocket, blue tie and grey trousers.

In the afternoon, the players are called to go to the main hall in the Palace. Then, Cardinal-Archbishop Bueno Monreal arrives. He sits in front of them and asks captain Miguel Azcárate to be at his left. He greets them one by one, shaking their hands, and talks to them. First, he thanks Real Betis for choosing this religious venue to prepare their games and them to "blend your status as sportsmen with being good Christians."

Azcárate answers on behalf of the team. He thanks him for his deference towards the club and players and guarantees him that they will always fight in good spirit, "with sportsmanship" to achieve the biggest successes. To finish, he promises to dedicate the victory over Espanyol (which did not happen) to him.

After, the Cardinal-Archbishop stays a few minutes talking with players, coaches and directors. They talk about football and how the season was going.

Real Betis lost against Espanyol and also the following one against Atletico de Madrid. That was the end of the seminary effect. The following Sunday, they got back to Oromana and also lost against Valencia. Valera was sacked and Sabino Barinaga replaced him. Another classic.

And Barinaga decided that not Umbrete nor Oromana. The new coach decided that the pre-match meetings were going to be at Hotel La Rábida. But that didn't change the course of the season either.