Last night, I figured I’d settle in for the evening and watch the Rayo Vallecano v Real Madrid match. This game is a derby match, with Rayo coming from the Vallecas suburb of Madrid (though the residents consider Vallecas to be a separate town to Madrid). However the game was called off. Not because of weather, or some other natural cause, but because someone had cut wires and damaged fuse boxes, meaning that only half the lights were working.
Rayo’s fans were locked outside (for security reasons the Real Madrid fans were already in when the lights went out and were allowed to stay) while the club desperately tried to get the lights fixed. The game was due to kickoff at 20:30 CET, but the referee said that he’d give Rayo until 22:00 to get it fixed. When it became obvious that they couldn’t meet this deadline, the game was called off.
Speaking to Canal+, club president Martin Presa explained: "We have suffered a sabotage. Someone has cut the cables from the tribune. The solution is to reconnect the cables and expect electricity to give the spotlight. The wires were cut off and that's not normal."
Rayo’s Managing Director, Luis Yanez added “The 57 cables leading to the lights on one of the stands were cut and the 12 fuse boxes they come from were damaged”
This has led to a ‘whodunnit’ engulfing the Spanish capital. Initially fingers were pointed at Rayo’s fans who in the week leading up to the game, had been protesting, not unreasonably in my opinion, the decision taken to make this game a ‘club day’, which basically means that season-ticket holders have to pay extra to get into the game.
Last season, Rayo’s owners did the same thing when Real Madrid and Barcelona came to town, making Rayo season ticket holders pay an extra 25 euros in order to see the game, something that Rayo fans had thought to be a joke when it was first announced. Rayo’s fans responded by paying the fee, as it was their first season back in the top flight for several years, but paying it in as much small change as they could get their hands on, carrying big bags of cents (the cent is the subdivision of the Euro) to the stadium. They also vacated their seats and hung a banner across the empty seats that said “is this what you want your stadium to look like?”
However, Rayo’s main fan organisation, Los Bukaneros, have denied any involvement in any act of sabotage. In a statement, they said,
“We have absolutely nothing to do with this alleged sabotage, it is false and the accusations are made by various people who call themselves journalists and do not hesitate to slander, lie and accuse without any proof.
“We do not know who, when and how the sabotage occurred (if indeed it is a sabotage, as we know the likes of which we have in the offices of our organisation, we cannot absolutely rule out any option).
“We have been directly affected, and we must remember that our official position for this game, decided in consensus with other clubs and the most active groups of supporters and known to all, has been to go to it to encourage our Rayo and show our opposition to the leaders of our club, as we did in the ‘dias del club’ days imposed on us last season.
“We always give absolute freedom to our members to decide individually whether to go to the stadium to protest in the face of the thieves we have for leaders, and whether or not to swallow this new robbery from the directors.”
Rayo’s fans are known for being left-wing, anti-fascist, anti-racist and generally a bit ‘different’. They definitely march to the beat of their own drummer. They are also one of the last remaining ‘neighbourhood’ teams left in Europe.
Sadly Rayo’s financial situation in the past few years has limited the club’s progress. Rayo have never been awash with money, during their last spell in the primera division, rather than relaxing in a high-tech training facility, one player said that he killed time in between double training sessions by “having a McDonalds followed by a nap in the back of a pickup truck”.
The current financial situation is no better. In the past few seasons, financial problems suffered by the then-owners of the club, the Ruiz Mateos family, one of the more controversial club owners in Spain, have meant that wages have gone unpaid several times, including one occasion where the players went almost a full season unpaid. On several occasions, the club’s staff only got paid because the players forfeited part of their wages.
The Ruiz Mateos family eventually declared bankruptcy and no longer own the club, meaning that Teresa Rivero, the matriarch of the Ruiz Mateos family, who was known to attack referees with her umbrella and fall asleep during games and for years was Spain’s only female club president, has gone too. For a long while it looked as though Rayo Vallecano might go out of business and are still in Spain’s equivalent of administration.
Somewhat miraculously, despite being a financial basket case and strongly tipped for relegation, Rayo survived last season. In fact, they looked to be safe with a long while to go before an amazing collapse left them needing an injury time winner in the last game of the season in order to stay up. Their coach Jose Ramon Sandoval, a man totally committed to playing open attacking football won admiration for his ‘win or bust’ strategy. All of this happened while there was huge internal conflict between the players and the owners/administrators off the pitch.
Last season, Sandoval arrived for work to find a letter from the club hierarchy, which demanded that he return a bonus he had received for Rayo’s promotion the previous season. The new owners and the administrators claimed that deals signed with the previous owners were not valid, even if they had already been paid. Sandoval had already agreed to a 40% pay cut in order to help the club, so he wasn’t best pleased at being asked to give more.
This led to another confrontation between the owners and administrators versus players and staff, something that was becoming a regular occurrence. Sandoval was defiant. "There is no way that they are going to beat this club, its players or its fans."
Sandoval’s response was to go on what he called a “Japanese strike”, which is an urban legend that states in times of industrial dispute, Japanese workers go in and work harder than ever, thus increasing their output so much, the owners cannot sell all of their products and as a result they disrupt the company’s finances. In short, prove your point by proving your worth.
There was another occasion last season where Rayo were due to play Real Sociedad away and had to travel to San Sebastian by bus, as they couldn’t afford air travel. The journey took a long time, even longer than it should have, so when Sandoval asked the driver what was going on, the driver replied he’d been instructed by the club not to use toll roads as they couldn’t afford them. The players then chipped in themselves. There were several occasions where the Rayo players couldn’t swap shirts with their opponents at the end of a game because the club couldn’t afford to replace them.
Despite a summer which saw the departures of Sandoval, and several key players, including Michu, who was sold to Swansea City at a knock-down price and has got off to a storming start to his Premier League career. Despite these losses, Rayo have started the season well, currently sitting in eighth place in the league.
The floodlights were repaired this morning, and the game was played tonight, with Real Madrid winning 0-2 in a hard-fought match with goals from Benzema and a Ronaldo penalty. The police continue to investigate the sabotage.