La Liga Lowdown
El “manquepierda”: The Meaning Behind What Defines Real Betis
Written by Alan Feehely
The intangible is potent. It’s reading between the lines, understanding the subtle rhythms of life and existence. Seville and Andalusia are like that. It’s the small details that matter most.
The pokey character of bars on Calle Huelva, lined with people and packed with a history of flamenco. Camarón de la Isla’s image on the walls and the faintest aroma of hashish in the air. It’s leaving a house party pre-dawn in Heliópolis, a collective moving as one before being side-tracked by the looming majesty of the Benito Villamarín and being convinced to go for a four-in-the-morning loop of la cancha before catching a taxi back to Calle Viriato. Una cosa andaluza.
“The girl wore the tight black dress of the villages and had long Spanish-Indian eyes,” wrote Laurie Lee in A Moment of War of his encounter with an Andalusian girl named Eulalia during the Spanish Civil War. “Her eyes were like slivers of painted glass, glinting in the setting sun. I heard the boys upstairs stomping and singing to the breathy music of an old accordion, but I couldn’t join them. I was trapped down here, in this place, this cellar, to the smell of coñac and this sleek animal girl. ‘Frenchman,’ she said thickly. ‘English,’ I said woodenly. She shrugged and whispered a light bubbling profanity - not Catalan but pure Andaluz. Her finger and thumb closed on my wrist like a manacle. Her body met mine with the quick twist of a snake. When the square of sunset had at last moved away and died, we lay panting gently and desert dry. I took a swig from the goatskin and offered it to her. She shook her head but lay close as though to keep me warm.” Una cosa andaluza.
José María Pérez Orozco is a learned man. Clean-shaven with glasses, a pressed jumper and a hat that signals campesino heritage, he holds court outside a bar nursing a caña of Cruzcampo. He’s telling the story of many years before, when he visited his brother in Madrid and fell into conversation with a couple of locals. They laughed at his accent, heavily doused in andaluz, different from their mainstream castellano. But he didn’t lose his rag and brandish his academic credentials.
“I was grateful,” he said. “Grateful for a club more powerful than them, the most powerful of all of Andalusia and the antidote to their vulgarity. Viva el Betis, I thought, y manque pierda. Only their ignorance was greater than their rudeness - I’ve been a professor of Spanish language and literature since 1974 and the specialised subject I did my doctorate on was Andalusian speech. Of key importance is the idea of using words that are jewels of the Spanish language but archaic, the result of a union between consonants already disappeared. Andalusians are specialists in preserving the archaic, something many ignorant people confuse with a lack of modernisation and erudition. This ties into the idea of viva el Betis y manque pierda - it’s venerable, something you’re born into and as a result feel its bite all the more strongly.”
“You live here,” Enrique Roldán, a writer and Bético based in Seville, told me. “You know our expressions. There’s an idea here in Andalusia that there exists such a thing as lexical conservatism, which means that in Andalusia, more so than other regions of Spain, the use of words is maintained over time so that their original meaning becomes blurred. That idea helps one understand that even though the phrase of manquepierda came into being during the time Betis spent in the Third Division, it goes on and on. It’s a way of reflecting a deep love of the club.”
Real Betis Balompié have one LaLiga title to their name, from the 1934/35 season. They have won the Copa del Rey twice, in 1976/77 and 2004/05, and the Copa Andalucía once, in 1927/28. Aside from that, the majority of their silverware is gleaned from their time in the lower reaches of Spanish football - they have seven Second Division titles and one Third Division title in their trophy cabinet. Despite this, Betis carry a significance that belies their lack of honours. They dominate Andalusia like no other, that romantic region to the south of Spain that gave the world flamenco and bullfighting. Their home, the Benito Villamarín, holds 60,270 people. They’re a big club.
“Manquepierda is the cornerstone of Betis,” explained Bético Javier Guerrero. “It’s an acceptance of the difficulty of life and the idea that no matter what happens, you’ll always get up. This embrace of reality isn’t a matter of putting a positive spin on defeat - it’s a statement of love. An acceptance that no matter how badly one is doing in life they will never be abandoned. Betis aren’t the richest club in the world, and that has much more to do with our lack of success than an overreliance on the concept of manquepierda. Our identity isn’t the problem - Betis came back from the verge of bankruptcy with a group of players that gave everything to defend our shirt, supported by fans who didn’t miss matches even when the club were mired in the Third Division.”
¡Viva el Betis manque [aunque] pierda!
Long live Betis even when they lose!
The word manque is an archaism of Spanish - a term used in the past in most of the domain of the language that has largely disappeared from everyday speech. It corresponds to a concessive conjunction that has been preserved in certain variants of Spanish, especially in rural areas of different regions of Spain and parts of Latin America including Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. It can be translated as ‘although’.
This phrase has evolved into a philosophical statement. It is an embrace of the imperfection of existence and a celebration of how this imperfection enriches the soul. It creates drama, tension and cinematic scope in a way that’s uniquely Andalusian and Sevillano. “Betis cannot be separated from manquepierda,” said Roldán. “In Spain, if someone says ‘viva el Betis’ someone will automatically respond with ‘manque pierda’. This is part of Betis’ identity, something that goes hand-in-hand with its history - and one cannot understand Betis without understanding the history it has lived.
“There was a period after the Civil War when we were relegated to the Third Division for 10 years and then we played in the Second Division. We didn’t return to the First Division until the 1950s. So, you can’t conceive of Betis as an institution without taking into account those years, a time in which we suffered greatly. It was a time that made the supporters develop a deep love for their team. Betis had won the league in 1935 and ten years later were in the Third Division, and since then Betis haven’t been a top team by a long shot - they’ve predominantly lived between the First Division and the Second Division. That’s why the importance is so high - we’ve lived a life of promotions and relegations and know that you love your team no matter what division they compete in.”
“I think it’s a clear identity,” explained foremost historian of Betis Alfonso Del Castillo. “There are few clubs in the world with a slogan that means as much to the identity of the club. It’s not that defeat is praised and victory doesn’t matter - it’s something intrinsic to the concept of Betis and to understand it you need to realise where and why it was born, in the years the club spent in the Third Division in the 1940s and 1950s. It’s linked to a core of support the club built during that era, when it had been abandoned by much of Seville and only a small core of supporters rallied around the club to keep the fire burning. This spirit was retained when Betis recovered and returned to the Second Division in 1954 and the First Division in 1958 - once this cry of support came into existence, it could never be lost.”
“Manquepierda emerged as a desperate cry in the face of a distressing sporting, economic and social situation,” Del Castillo wrote previously. “It never supposed conformity or a lack of demand or ambition - if that had been the case, Betis would never have left the Third Division. Manquepierda is first and foremost to do with loyalty - never give up and always fight for a different reality. It’s a beautiful cry of rebellion and fidelity - a fidelity to colours, to an entity and to a feeling, but all the while maintaining a spirit of rebellion against mismanagement and administrational incapacity.”
Betis’ failures since the turn of the millennium have been magnified by the success of Sevilla, the other club in the city of Seville. Like Betis, Sevilla have won just one league title, from the 1945/46 season. They have won five Copa del Rey titles, one Spanish Super Cup, four Second Division titles and 18 Copa Andalucía titles. It is in Europe, however, that they really have excelled. In the 15-year period between 2005 and 2020, Sevilla won a record six UEFA Cup / Europa League titles and one European Super Cup.
“The culture of Seville is represented by Carmen,” said Del Castillo. “I’m Bético and I want Sevilla to lose whenever they’re playing, but I don’t define myself as anti-Sevillista. I think that both they and Betis are important parts of the city - the history of one without the other would lose much of its meaning, and that’s a common point of view of any Sevillano. Throughout Andalusia there is a greater identification with Betis than with Sevilla, and there are more Betis peñas throughout the region than Sevilla peñas. I think a lot of this has to do with the character of the clubs - Betis is more hippyish and connects more easily with other clubs throughout Andalusia.
“Improvement takes time. You need social growth and economic growth to attain sporting improvement. At the moment, Betis’ sporting performance isn’t in line with the social and economic importance of the club, but I think that the foundations are being laid for the club’s growth. Right now, in terms of members, Betis is behind only Real Madrid and Barcelona. Betis has support not just in Seville, but throughout Andalusia and Spain.”
“Traditionally there has always been more of an attachment of the popular classes to Betis and the wealthier classes to Sevilla, but this isn’t because Betis was the team of the left and Sevilla was the team of the right,” said Roldán. “It’s more because in the 1930s Betis were the first Andalusian team to win the First Division, and then we were relegated to the Third Division for much of the post-war period. It was a time of hunger - Sevilla were in the First Division and we were in the Third Division. If you were poor, who were you going to go and see? The one that costs ten pesetas, of course.
“Over time that’s become blurred, and there are many right-wing people involved with both Sevilla and Betis. An obvious difference between the two is the level of organisation of each - Sevilla have organised themselves extremely well for many years while Betis is only recently starting to become organised in a modern way. Six or seven years ago, Betis had a president with no idea of football who left a huge debt on the club - there was literally no professionalism. Sevilla started this process years ago, largely thanks to the appointment of Monchi. Betis have been progressing little by little, and while there’s been some notable failures we are advancing.”
For Roldán, Betis is intimately linked to his conception of Andalusia. “Why has Andalusia traditionally been a land that has suffered?” he asked. “Since the Reconquista we’ve been treated badly - we’ve been the poor, the wretched, the miserable. We have been people who’ve had to overcome our defeats and our problems in spite of being trampled on, continuing to work through the pain. We’re hard-working people, us Andalusians. We used to work 14 hours in the fields, every day.
“Despite this, Andalusians are still being treated in a derogatory way. But I think that the Andalusian’s way of being - of overcoming suffering and recovering from adversity - has always helped them stand up to such injustice. It’s this idea that “I may be poor, but I have what I have and what I have done defines me as an Andalusian. I have shown perseverance to move forward and advance, wanting to protect what I have even though it’s only a little, because it’s what I have and it gives me a reason to be.” That spirit is represented in Betis. That way of being, that way of feeling, that way of thinking - it’s perfectly reflected in the club. From that perspective, I do believe that the concept of manquepierda does represent the culture - not so much of the city of Seville, but of Andalusia, within which the context of the culture of Seville is framed.”
Painted like this, one would imagine that manquepierda is precioso. A treasured item of cultural heritage to be protected and promoted no end. But is this acceptance of failure and imperfection hindering Betis in their ambition for advancement? They finished 15th last season despite having the eighth-highest wage bill in LaLiga and should be performing at a higher level than they have been in recent years. Is manquepierda partly to blame?
“The concept is sometimes misinterpreted, but it doesn’t mean that Béticos don’t care about the result - it’s a harmony between the club and the people, that no matter whether a team wins or loses its supporters will stick by them,” said Del Castillo. “It’s not the case that we don’t care about winning and losing - like all sporting institutions our ambition is to win every game. Manquepierda doesn’t mean a lack of ambition or a desire to win - it’s simply a way of remembering the fires within which the club was forged during the lean years. Within Betis right now there is a great internal debate between factions of support who don’t agree with the decisions taken by the board, but they too are living manquepierda. It’s nothing to do with apathy, neglect or a lack of enthusiasm. Quite the opposite. There are many people who are with a club when they’re winning and not when they’re losing, but a Bético distinguishes himself most by his identification with the vision of being Bético. It’s something beyond winning and losing - it’s loyalty in war and in peace.”
I asked Del Castillo who within the Betis plantilla best understands the concept of Betis. “Joaquín grew up here. When he was younger, he aspired to step up and play for a big team, but I think it’s clear that he really feels it now,” he responded. “Then you have another player who came from outside the club with great technical quality. He has proved in his three years here that he has what it takes to fulfil his potential and do important things. He’s suffered injuries in the past and from the pressure of being labelled brilliant as a youngster, but he’s developed and tempered his personality to become calm and serene, and he’s also become a full international in his time here. He's Sergio Canales.”
“I don’t think that manquepierda hinders Betis’ progress,” said Roldán “I have always and will always say viva Betis y manque pierda. But I want Betis to win every game. I don’t think that Betis’ lack of success in modern times is because the fans weren’t hungry enough - they’re starving for success. I remember a game four or five seasons ago with Gus Poyet in charge when we were playing Barcelona at the Benito Villamarín - we were drawing at half-time and the people started to whistle. This is why manquepierda is so important. It’s not a matter of saying - if we lose, it doesn’t matter. We always want to win, and should Betis lose we’re going to be angry with the coach, the players, the club. But the idea is that the club will live on forever, manque pierda. It transcends the players, the president, the coach. Deep down, regardless of the circumstances, there is a deep love for the club. That’s not an obstacle to progress.”
“The cry is not conformist,” wrote Del Castillo. “It isn’t negative – instead, it wants to proclaim the enormous strength of collective adherence to the club with the most passionate mass of followers in Spain. Manquepierda is all about demonstrating that, above all, there is faith, and this faith will one day bring back glory. Thus comes this cry of rebellion, faith, exaltation, non-conformism - this is where manquepierda was born and made clear. Alongside this love and adherence comes a responsibility to be demanding with ourselves and those that run the club - the sense of fidelity and rebellion that epitomises manquepierda.”
“I was astonished that this hour had been so simple yet secret, the opening and closing of velvet doors,” wrote Lee. “Eulalia was not the sort of Spanish girl I’d known in the past - the noisy steel-edged virgins flirting from the safety of upstairs windows, or loud arm-in-arm with other girls in the paseo, sensual, cheeky, confident of their powers, but scared to be alone with a man. Eulalia, with her beautiful neck and shoulders, also had a quiet dignity and grace. A wantonness, too, so sudden and unexpected. I felt it was a wantonness given against her will. Or at least, if not given willingly, it was now part of her nature, the result of imposed habits and tutoring.”
This idea is important - of imposed habits and tutoring conditioning behaviour and leading individual entities to operate outside of the norm. Eulalia had fled abuse in her home in Andalusia to come to Madrid to fight and become autonomous - that was that moment in Spanish history, when such flights of adventure were possible, juxtaposed against a conservative society. The same can be applied to Betis, as ludicrous as it sounds. The club has the status of a big club, a title winner pre-war who fell upon hard times and fell as far as the Third Division. Then, sharing a city with Sevilla, they counterintuitively capitalised on their faded glory and cheap tickets to develop a core of proud, working class support. That, coupled with the high number of Andalusian immigrants scattered throughout the country and indeed the world, has built a robust pillar of dedicated support perhaps unmatched in Spanish football, and at the heart of it all is manquepierda.
Manquepierda is more than football. It’s a historically downtrodden people taking ownership of their identity and embracing life for all its blemishes. It’s an act of fidelity, of tying one’s colours to the mast and holding true no matter how bad the weather. It’s an act of optimism, of Eulalia moving north in search of independence but loath to lose the acento andaluz that bewitched a young Laurie Lee. It’s something intangible - and there’s nothing as potent as that. Una cosa andaluza.
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