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Rayo Vallecano make for a refreshing change. Although they are currently enjoying their fifth successive season rubbing shoulders with the some of the most glittery and glamorous clubs in world football, the essence of the club is still very much more that of a working class district team.
In their distinctive white kit with a red diagonal stripe (which dates from when Argentinian giants River Plate were in town and presented the players with a set of shirts), they hail from the district of Vallecas. In that underprivileged barrio of Madrid, unemployment is high and most of the population are immigrants, first from the poverty-struck south of Spain, and more recently from abroad.
Making a stand
The local football club serves as a source of pride for an otherwise deprived community, and is also used as a stage that the people of Vallecas use to vent their frustrations. At their humble ground, surrounded by drab housing blocks and one end of which is nothing but a brick wall, adapted versions of La Marseillaise, the Internationale and other classic proletariat chants are sung, while banners advocating Che Guevara, Anarchism, Communism and Socialism are flown along with the red, yellow and purple flag used by the liberal government of the 1930s.
Everything at the club oozes with alternativism. The fans are notorious for their opposition to fascism, racism, homophobia and other ills, and have long remonstrated against the over-commercialisation of football. But it’s militancy with a smile, such as the recent mock bedroom scene created to voice their dissent at the late kick-off times imposed by La Liga or when the fans paid for their tickets with bags of one-cent coins in opposition to rising prices.
Charity begins at home
That sense of solidarity, of doing things ‘right’, has also rubbed off on the club. At the height of the recession, the players rejected a pay offer in order for the ground staff to be paid instead. The new away strip features a 'rainbow' stripe that as well as expressing solidarity with homosexuals, also symbolises the plights, among others, of the disabled and the victims of child abuse. The third kit, meanwhile, has a special pink sash in support of breast cancer awareness, with proceeds from shirt sales being donated to the cause.
No case exemplifies the bond between Rayo and its community more than that of Carmen Martinez Ayudo in 2014. The 85 year-old widow was set to be forcibly evicted from her home, just a stone’s throw away from the stadium, because she was unable to pay back a loan. Touched by the story, manager Paco Jémez arranged a fundraising campaign to find Carmen a new flat and pay the rent for the rest of her life.
Not surprisingly, comparisons have been drawn between Rayo and another famously ‘militant’ club, St Pauli of Germany. Indeed, the two clubs met in Hamburg in a preseason friendly in July, where the result, a 4-2 win for the home side, was what mattered least. United by the same leftist, anti-fascist cause, the game was a celebration of two quite extraordinary sets of supporters, who stand firm in their conviction that football can be used as a force for change.
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