Spain’s Socialist Team Rayo Vallecano Awaits A Heated Top-Flight Return

It’s often a cliché to talk about soccer clubs embodying their fans. But in the case of Rayo Vallecano—one of the three newly-promoted La Liga sides—there should be an exception.

Supporters of the Madrid team are always vocal, and not just when it comes to soccer. Fans famously support social justice causes with anti-racist and anti-fascist messaging during games and demand parity from both the club’s decision-makers and their representatives on the pitch: the players.

Spanish league soccer will resume in under a month. And this time, perhaps more than ever, Rayo will be a particularly vocal addition to the first division.

Making itself heard

Much of Rayo’s identity is about rebuking principles it opposes. Politically, this has meant championing socialist values, such as the working-class spirit, over opposing political figures, owners, players and sponsors.

Such was their acute awareness fans once famously raged after forward Roman Zozulya sealed a loan switch to Rayo four years ago. Convinced that the Ukrainian had politically disparate affiliations—which he denied—Zozulya was out the door in no time.

One followers’ platform said the incident had “trampled on our values.” And fans didn’t stop there (Spanish). They also rallied against him when he returned as an away player with Albacete at the end of 2019, leading to the match’s postponement. Rayo’s soccer home is the Estadio de Vallecas, in a traditionally less affluent zone of Madrid.

In April, towards the end of their promotion campaign, match-goers deep-cleaned the ground, and not because of Covid-19 fears. It was a response to a visit from Santiago Abascal and Rocío Monasterio, leaders of the Spanish right-wing party Vox, who entered a hostile scene.

Not only do fans reject certain people, though. Frustration even extended to shirt sponsors last season when they called out the decision to imprint the home strip’s sleeves with a betting company’s logo (Spanish), as La Razón reported. In short, the supporters know where they stand.

Pumped up fans return

The community ground will be alive with noise when Granada comes to town at the end of August. Unlike many other La Liga venues, it has an atmospheric but quaint flavor and will serve as a unique test for visiting teams.

Spain’s health minister Carolina Darías has already confirmed that supporters will be allowed to attend domestic games, at least to begin with, while La Liga president Javier Tebas hopes for attendances at around 70% capacity before rising to maximum volume by November.

Given the buzz it creates, it is hard to imagine Rayo surviving relegation without its fervent crowd behind it. It was there—albeit at a limited capacity—when the Vallecans stormed past Leganés and pipped Girona to playoff glory, despite only just making the deciding matches by finishing sixth in the standings, and will be needed again.

Super League anger

A visit to Vallecas may seem undaunting to most, but there is every chance that Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid will find it tough going.

That is not because Rayo has the players to scare them. Instead, all three will experience an intense game due to unforgotten matters off the field.

The furor surrounding the controversial European Super League idea may have cooled somewhat, but most fans’ recollections have not faded, and Spain’s founding trio will feel the sting at Rayo. Real—who it will also face its city neighbor in pre-season friendly—will be made particularly unwelcome, due to the divisive role of club president Florentino Pérez in the elitist plan.

When I asked Tebas about the long-term implications of the Super League proposal on the league in a press conference last month, he conceded that while most teams are united, there remains a disparity between the Super League advocates and the rest.

That will be felt keenly by Rayo and its players but could also provide added motivation for the tricky assignments ahead.

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