For the first time in 4 years United made it to the knockout stages of the Champions League, with 5 wins from 6 in a relatively straightforward group. Changes to the group seeding in recent years meant that finishing top still left us open to drawing a strong 2nd placed team, including Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Juventus. Thankfully though we were paired with a new opponent and a trip to Seville.
United have faced Spanish opposition more than any other country, 50 times in our European history. This was however the first competitive game against Sevilla, our only other game being a friendly for Rio Ferdinand’s testimonial back in 2013. Our most recent trip to Spain was for our Europa League semi final at Celta Vigo last May, 450 miles further up the west of Spain. For me it was a 4th visit to Spain for the football, matching Germany as the country I’ve seen most with United.
The Match Ticket Fiasco
United are no strangers to being fleeced on ticket prices by opposition teams, particularly in Spain where they’re often high. Sevilla took it one step further though with a record high €100! The rule for away ticket pricing in the Champions League is that they must be priced the same as home supporters are charged in an equivalent area; Sevilla’s attempt to get round this was by applying the same high price to a tiny block of seats next to the away end.
Cue a few weeks of back and forth; complaints and lobbying from MUST, public appeals from United and Football Supporters Europe. Sevilla wouldn’t budge, they’d played by the rules, United argued that this was an enormous increase from the group stages before Christmas where Liverpool were charged £54. To pressure the Sevillanos into dropping the price United reluctantly retaliated by setting the away tickets at the same level for the game at Old Trafford, whilst also subsidising our tickets by £35 to match what other teams had paid. Sevilla’s only response was to subsidise their own fans too, making the whole thing a needless exercise; the fans as ever the ones caught in the middle.
Travelling to Seville
Seville, in the south of Spain, is the capital of the Andalusia region. Whilst some airlines do fly direct from Manchester there were no obvious options for our trip in February, and so once again the best route looked to be via Madrid. A bargain at £51 return, plenty of fans opted for the same journey with our outward flight 75% United. Unluckily (for him) we were joined by ex-Liverpool player and pundit Steve McManaman who was heading out to cover the game. He got a bit of grief but in good humour and he took it well, but probably regretted flying budget with Ryanair.
With one night in Madrid we stopped close to the centre, near Puerta del Sol, which made for convenient food and drinks in the evening. Our hotel was slightly out of the ordinary, the theatrically decorated Hotel Casual Madrid del Teatro. It was only a short visit though, with an early morning internal flight down to Seville, an even better deal at just £19 one-way in the Iberia Express January sale. We’d be travelling back to Madrid on a train the day after the game; even with €30-odd on metros and taxis to and from each airport, our total trip was the cheapest of the season.
The City of Seville
Seville is Spain’s 4th largest city, but definitely doesn’t have the bustling feel of Madrid or Barcelona, perhaps because it’s tucked away in the corner of the country and 60 miles away from the coast. The Guadalquivir river, which snakes all the way from the Atlantic, passes the city and forms a canal to the west.
In the 20 degree February sun it’s a beautiful and colourful city, not just for the rows of orange trees in bloom on each street. The picturesque nature of Seville means it’s been a background for film and television, with the Plaza de España featuring in Star Wars and Game of Thrones. A worthy setting with a crescent of bridges, archways and ceramic decoration; small ‘provincial alcoves’ set in the inner arch seemed a big attraction for tourists from all over.
Our second hotel of the trip, the Pension Catedral Seville was slightly cheaper than in central Madrid and unsurprisingly just a short walk to the Cathedral. This was where we based ourselves for most of the match day, pre and post game. In 20 degree heat, the shade of the dominating gothic Cathedral and Giralda bell tower were welcome, with plenty of side streets that ran off this area home to small bars and groups of United fans.
Given how central we were in the city it was surprisingly cheap too, with pints for as little as €2.80. Seville, home of flamenco music and bull fighting, is apparently known as the ‘birthplace of tapas’ and this was in great supply all over the city; there’s no beating being sat outside in the sun with a table of meat, cheese and beer.
Sevilla’s stadium, the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, is situated to the east of the city, around 1.5 miles from the Cathedral area that we’d been drinking in. There were a few bars dotted along the way and plenty as we approached the ground, which lit up the surrounding streets with a dark blue glow – a contract to the red of the United flares. Although the heat had died down a little it was still a warm evening, perfect for watching football in a roofless stadium.
The Spanish police have been known to dish out a few digs when football supporters are in town, and the reports from Liverpool’s visit last year weren’t that positive for our fans trying to get into the ground. With that in mind we’d been warned to get in early, with extra checks in place. Thanks again to the support of FSE, MUST and the club this all seemed to pass without incident and we made it in without seeing a single baton.
No matter how many times it’s been said there’s no denying that the trip is greater than the match. With the highlights being two world class saves from De Gea and a short lived celebration for a disallowed goal that says it all, United really struggled again. Sevilla were unfortunate not to score really, a 0-0 scoreline not telling the full story and leaving United with a lot of work in the home leg.
Our first knockout tie in the Champions League since the defeat to Bayern Munich in 2013, but with none of the excitement or goals of that fixture. Given the record ticket price it certainly didn’t represent value for money either, although the train through Spain gave us time to reflect in the best way, with cans of Cruzcampo and views of miles of orange trees. With a solid performance at Old Trafford we’ll be planning for another game in April. Even if it’s not another 20 degree scorcher we don’t want the sun to come down on this campaign just yet.
Total travel costs: £134
Miles travelled: 2,448
Accommodation: £42/night (twin rooms – £21pp)
Match ticket: €100 (£89) – subsidised by United to £54
Average cost of pint: £2.80 (€3.20)
United allocation: 2,500
Result: Sevilla FC 0: United 0 [2-1 defeat in home leg]
Match played 21/02/18