Calling all Spanish football fans. Matthew Hirtes returns with his sideways look at the world of Iberian fútbol. This time, he’s turning his attention to a fascinating Madrid club: Rayo Vallecano.
Rayo Vallecano….in 90 seconds
Welcome to Vallecas aka The Independent Republic of Vallecas. This is the “wrong” side of the river with the Puente de Vallecas (Vallecas Bridge) historically transporting you from the Spanish capital, to what was a town in its own right. Despite being swallowed by an ever-voracious metropolis, working-class Vallecas (also referred to as Vallekas) retains its independence; particularly at the near 15,000-capacity Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas, home to Rayo, as in Lightning, Vallecano.
Over the course of 15 seasons, right back Jesús Diego Cota wore the distinctive lightning-bolt shirt 411 times, making him Rayo Vallecano’s all-time record appearance maker. He helped Rayo to four promotions to the top flight: in 1988, 1992, 1994 and 1999. These days, Cota still plays; turning out for Vallecano Veterans since retiring as a professional in 2002.
The highlight of Jesús Diego Cota’s Rayo Vallecano career was undoubtedly playing in the 2000-2001 UEFA Cup, after Rayo qualified for being the fairest players with the lowest number of bookings in the whole of Europe. One of his teammates that campaign was centre back Ramón de Quintana Dalmau who rejoined for a second spell in time to help Vallecano to reach the quarter-finals. Rayo lost 4-2 on aggregate to fellow Spaniards (and eventual finalists) Alavés.
Another teammate of Cota’s was Nigeria international goalkeeper, Wilfred Agbonavbare who starred in the 1991-92 campaign, conceding just 27 goals in 3,332 minutes of action. There’s an Eterno Willy tribute at the Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas with the lower tier of the stadium named in his honour, praising Agbonavbare for his defence of the stripes (in 1949 Rayo’s old Rovidal ground was used by River Plate as a training base to prepare for a friendly against Real Madrid and the Argentinians donated a full set of their kit which led to the incorporation of the red sash) and his battle against racism (his penalty save against Real Madrid’s Michel at the Bernabeu on 9th May 1993 handed the title to Barcelona and led to some monkey chants from fans of Franco’s favoured club). Sadly, Agbonavbare couldn’t win the fight against cancer, succumbing to the disease aged just 48 in January 2015.
Rayo Vallecano Form Guide
Rayo Vallecano are very much the People’s Champions. They’ve won the hearts and minds of locals and those from further afield due to their progressive fans celebrated for their anti-homophobic and anti-racist banners and songs. Their trophy haul is small, however, with lower-league titles the only thing they’ve ever picked up; most recently as Segunda División champions in 2017-18 which saw them return to the top flight of Spanish football.
Club Shop Essential Purchase
Stylishly grey, the Rayo Vallecano boot bag would make for a great present for the hipster in your life.
Bar Restaurante “El Sitio” on Calle del Arroyo del Olivar, a three-minute walk from the stadium, eschews fancy nouveau cuisine for heartier fare with old-school-sized portions. Just around the corner is bar/cafe Hnos Muñoz, on Calle de Carlos Martín Álvarez, which is open for breakfast where coffee is drunk to later in the day when the natives switch to tapas and vermouth. Sandwiched between the two is the authentically Italian Il Capriccetto where deep-pan pizzas are conspicuous by their absence, with the emphasis on the thinnest of crusts.
Of the 20 Rayo Vallecano peñas (supporters’ associations) the loudest and proudest are the left-leaning Bukaneros. They certainly made their feelings known when the club signed Ukrainian striker Roman Zozulya from Real Betis on 2016-17 deadline day. Their protests resulted in Rayo Vallecano pulling the plug on the deal with Zozulya, who was believed to adopt an extreme right-wing position off the pitch, deemed not fit to wear the shirt of Rayo Vallecano.
Damage to Your Wallet
The Fondo is the cheapest place to watch games at the Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas with tickets priced at €30. For a middle-of-the-range entrance, you’ll need to shell out €50 for the Lateral Baja. The most expensive tickets will secure your passage to the Tribuna Central (70€).
Matthew Hirtes, our resident broadsheet journalist, moved to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria back in 2004. He’s travelled extensively through Spain, covering it for such publications as Telegraph Travel, Metro, and The Independent. The author of Going Local in Gran Canaria: How To Turn a Holiday Destination into a Home, Matthew truly is a resident expert.