HISTORY / The first time Real Betis played against Raja Casablanca

In March of 1964, Betis won 0-3 in a match played in Tetouan to celebrate the Moroccan Throne Day

By Manolo Rodríguez

The match to be played on Sunday between Real Betis and Raja Casablanca won't be the first time these two teams have met. They already did in March of 1964 and it also was in Moroccan soil. The only difference is that the first time the game was played in Tetouan, while this time it will be in Casablanca, the biggest city in the North African country.

When that match took place in 1964, Real Betis was placed 3rd in the Spanish League. They were doing a great season and were short just three points to Barcelona and four to Real Madrid. The president was Benito Villamarín and the coach was Domingo Balmanya, an ambitious Catalan who had already won a Cup with Barcelona and who later became national coach and won one league with Atletico de Madrid.

The Betis team was phenomenal. They had experienced players such as Bosch, Pepín, Lasa, Grau and Eusebio Ríos, combined with promising youngsters like Luis Aragonés, Colo, Ansola, Pallarés or Molina. A powerful and balanced team that was completing the best season for the Green and Whites since the 50s. 

That Real Betis began March by hosting Espanyol at Heliópolis. The day before the match, it was announced that the team would travel to Tetouan to face Rayah Casablanca, as the Moroccan team was named at that time. This international projection of the team was not new, as there were rumours that Betis could travel to New York in July to play the International League.

This nice environment, however, was suddenly broken when on the same Sunday the Green and Whites are hosting Espanyol the papers announce that some of the directors at Real Betis have presented their resignation. This crisis was created because Atletico de Madrid wanted to sign three Betis players: Colo, Aragonés and Martínez.

Villamarín, who had invested his personal patrimony to save the club, decides to accept the offer. They will be transferred for 11 million pesetas. This decision created discomfort among the board and some start to question this sporting decision, but Villamarín himself.

The president replies with a cutting decision: "Resign and let me reorganize the board". So it happens and that day Villamarín goes alone to the Stadium, where he is welcomed with a closed ovation.

Then, on the pitch, Betis won 4-0 with two goals from Ansola, and one from Cruz and Molina.

There was an international break after that match and the Spanish national team meets in Seville, where they were playing Republic of Ireland on the 11th of March.

Spain national coach, José Villalonga, calles up three Real Betis players (keeper Pepín, defender Colo and midfielder Aragonés) and conducts a training session at Villamarín Stadium. Meanwhile, the Green and Whites are travelling to Morocco.

The Throne Day

Real Betis travels on Monday 2nd of March to Algeciras. They took a ferry from there to Ceuta, where they spend the night. They travel to Tetouan on the same day the match is to be played.

Coach Domingo Balmanya travels with 16 players: goalkeepers Corral and Campos; defenders Grau, Martínez, Areta and Suárez; midfielders Senekowitch, Portilla, Pallarés and Cortés; and strikers Castro, Cruz, Ansola, Rogelio, Liert da Silva and Quino. Apart from the players called up to the national team, players Ríos, Lasa, Paquito, Bosch, Montaner, and Molina were left in Seville to rest or due to injuries.

The main news in the squad was the presence of Joaquín Sierra 'Quino', a young footballer who had not yet made his debut with the first team in an official match, but is the sensation in the Academy. He is 18 and plays in the Youth National team. He has already played some friendlies with the first team and there is no doubt that he is about to play in the first team.

The match in Tetouan (the city that was the capital of the Spanish Protectorate until 1956) is part of the celebrations of the Moroccan Throne Day, a national celebration held every year to commemorate the rise to the throne of the king. The monarch in that moment was Hassan II, who had been crowned on the 3rd of March of 1961 after his father, Mohammed V, passed away.

But the King did not go to the match. In fact, he never visited Tetouan during his reign, as he maintained a hostile relationship with the north of the country and the Rif region. Hassan II saw them as separatist rebels who had already rioted at the end of the 50s, and later did again in 1984.

This affair did not change until 1999, when his son Mohammed VI lifted the block on the north and chose Tetouan as his summer residence.

"The Green Eagles"

The rival for Real Betis is Raja Casablanca, a club created in 1949 and linked to the resistance groups against the French Protectorate. They had a huge support among the people and their colours, as Betis, were also green and white. They were nicknamed from the start as 'The Green Eagles'.

Raja had been playing the Moroccan league from 1956 and although they had not won a single title by 1964, they were regarded as a competitive team. Their joyful playing style was linked to a well-known character in Moroccan football: Mohammed 'Ben Lahcen' Affani, known as 'Padre Jégo'.

This visionary was the first sport journalist who began talking about tactics and strategy back in the 30s. He used to travel around Europe and South America and gave a lot of importance to intelligence in the game. He helped built football development in Morocco and created the personality of Raja in a long 13-year period. He left the club in 1968 and is regarded as the creator of a playing style that can be compared to 'tiki-taka'. The Moroccans used to called it 'Raja's show'.
The big successful break for the 'Green Eagles' came in the 80s, and they have been one of the top teams in Morocco and North Africa since then. They have won the most important continental competitions and became runner-ups of the Club World Cup in 2013, losing in the final to Bayern Munich, then managed by Pep Guardiola.
During these golden years, important names in European football have played for the team, such as Portuguese Fernando Cabrita, Dutch Ruud Krol, French Henri Michel and Henri Stambouli, or Romanian Ilie Balaci.

The match in Tetouan

However, Raja was not a big club yet in 1964. Perhaps for this reason, Real Betis did not have much trouble to clearly win the game played on the 3rd of March in Tetouan. The match created big expectation in the region and people travelled from Ceuta, Tangier and Larache to attend to the game.

For this reason, the Sania Ramel Stadium was sold out. A venue built in 1913 and that was the home ground of the legendary Atletico Tetouan, a team that played the Sosnish first division in the 1951/1952 season. A big sporting venue with capacity for 10,000. The largest in Africa at that moment.

The match was presided by the province governor, Yacubi Benamar, and the national anthems of both countries were played before the captains exchanged flags and flowers. These were the line-ups:

Raja Casablanca: Halfi, Abdesalam I, Beljer, Yedidi, Rubio, Axis, Abdesalam II, Uazzani, Musa, Abderrahman, Baiya.

Real Betis: Corral, Grau, Suárez, Areta, Portilla, Martínez; Cruz, Pallarés (Cortés 80'), Ansola (Quino 45'), Senekowitch, Rogelio (Liert da Silva 45'). 

The match was controlled by Betis from beginning to end. Their football is more precise and technical and the goals come soon. Senekowitch opens the scored in the 12th minute and Ansola makes the second in the 28th.

The first half ends with an standing ovation. Especially for Antonio Cruz, a young Real Betis winger that is completing a great season.

In fact, Cruz made the final 0-3 after a personal play from Quino and a rebound on the goalkeeper.

After the end of the game, which was played with great sportsmanship, Real Betis are presented with gifts by the Moroccan authorities. Then, the team travels to Ceuta, where they would spend the night before going to Seville in the following morning.

In the days that came after, the main news was the international match Spain vs Republic of Ireland that was going to be played in Seville a week later. Spain won 5-1 and qualified to the Euros they ended winning.

Meanwhile, at Heliópolis, president Benito Villamarín makes changes in the board and, as it was planned, sells Colo, Aragonés and Martínez to Atletico de Madrid.

In the league, Betis continue with good pace and finish the season in third position.