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A true 'fiesta de fútbol'

Published: Wednesday 21 May 2003, 23.50CET
More than 75,000 fans travelled to Seville to make the final a spectacle on and off the pitch.
Published: Wednesday 21 May 2003, 23.50CET

A true 'fiesta de fútbol'

More than 75,000 fans travelled to Seville to make the final a spectacle on and off the pitch.

By Simon Hart in Seville

Seville has a special colour. So goes a song extolling the city's beauty by Los del Río, the band who gave the world the Macarena. Whether they had in mind the colours of UEFA Cup finalists Celtic FC is a moot point. However, as the headline in one local newspaper put it yesterday: "Seville woke up green and white."

Everything's gone green
More than 27,000 shirts were sold when Celtic's new kit went on sale last week and every single one of them appeared to be on display on the streets of the Andalusian capital ahead of the final against FC Porto. If it was not a Celtic shirt, it was the stripes of Real Betis Balompié - the local club whose colours derived from a set of Celtic kits brought to Seville in 1909.

Supporters' songs
The central Plaza de San Francisco was taken over by the Glasgow club's supporters - reddening under the fierce sun - who, prompted by a cheerleader from the Daily Record newspaper, ran through their repertoire of songs. Despite an official allocation of 15,700 tickets each, some 60,000 Celtic fans and 25,000 from Porto were here.

'Fiesta de fútbol'
A total of 350 charter flights landed in this corner of Spain and the arriving sets of fans mingled happily and ensured this final really did match its billing as a 'Fiesta de fútbol'. The UEFA Cup may have been overshadowed by the UEFA Champions League's recent expansion, but here was a spectacle to savour.

Anthems aired
The Spanish press made much of Celtic's Roman Catholic connections. ABC featured a photo of four supporters kneeling at the cathedral's altar and thousands of Celtic fans congregated there on the eve of the final. Crowded under the orange trees, against the backdrop of the cathedral's Moorish minaret, the lovely 12th-century Giralda, they filled the night sky with their anthems.

City drunk dry
In a city famed for its religious processions, however, this was very much a secular pilgrimage. Their presence beside the cathedral had much to do with its proximity to Flaherty's Irish pub: the establishment is believed to have sold two months' worth of beer in five days. The Seville public have looked on with a mixture of amusement and astonishment. Miguel García, whose bookshop looks on to the cathedral, said: "I have not seen anything like it - not even during the 1982 [FIFA] World Cup."

Passionate atmosphere
Before the match Porto coach José Mourinho had complained about the rutted state of the Estadio Olímpico pitch, relaid just three weeks ago. Venue of an athletics world championship, it may not be a natural football arena yet there was nothing wrong with the atmosphere. Inside the 52,000-capacity stadium, Celtic fans outnumbered their counterparts by at least two to one. Las Ketchup, the Andalusian singing sisters, added some spice before kick-off with a rendition of their hit song 'Aserejé', but the supporters' efforts were more memorable.

Stage set
Moments before the teams came out, the Porto fans unfurled a huge banner displaying the badges of all their victims en route to Seville. The Celtic end raised their scarves and sang 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. The stage was set and two past European champions produced something memorable. They traded goals, and songs too - "Nós somos campeões" one minute, "We shall not be moved" the next. The air thickened with insects, extra time came and Derlei won the game for Porto. Portugal had its first UEFA Cup winners. A Porto banner said it all: "Another glorious chapter in our history." The Celtic fans? They just carried on singing.

Last updated: 26/05/03 13.05CET

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