Long live local football
Unlike what many people think, football is a sport that was created by the working class. Over time, it has become the most followed sport in the world and, consequently, a business that generates billions of euros every year. Despite its incredible growth, there are still some clubs that continue to represent football linked to your every man on the street and local neighbourhoods. The best example in Spain of this working-class spirit is Rayo Vallecano, the pride of one of Madrid's humblest neighbourhoods.
Rayito, as the fans affectionately call the club, represent the pride of, what is both historically and currently, among the capital's humblest and also biggest neighbourhood. The club boasts a rebellious, activist and hardworking fan base that is ever so proud of Vallecas, which also gives its name to the meeting point and site for the ultimate expression of local character. The Estadio de Vallecas is on Avenida de la Albufera, the main street which runs through the neighbourhood and this is also the reason behind one of the stadium's main peculiarities, given that locals can watch the action from terraces and adjoining buildings to the ground. Seeing the lucky few whose balconies or windows overlook the stadium, giving them a privileged view of the stadium and the best league in the world is certainly a classic LaLiga image.
This is not the only characteristic that makes Vallecas special, however, given that it is the only LaLiga Santander ground with three stands, rather than four. The area where the north stand would be is instead filled by a huge wall on which the club usually displays big images containing messages of support for fans and players. The lack of a stand behind one of the goals is partly why the 14,505 capacity is the fifth smallest in LaLiga Santander, but there is no reason for panic, given that the three stands filled with Rayo fans are louder than many of the bigger top-flight grounds with four. Fans of la Franja (the team's nickname in honour of the diagonal stripe on the kit) are among the most passionate in Spain. With waves of chants emanating from the south stand, the whole stadium oozes a combative spirit that leads the team to put the pressure on their opponents from the first minute, no matter who they are and how big their budget is. This unwavering attitude from the team, fans and neighbourhood have created magical moments which earnt Rayo the giant-killers tag and ensured the big boys in LaLiga always have every visit to Vallecas clearly marked in their calendars.
Despite not being even half a century old, the Estadio de Vallecas has experienced a huge amount, from undergoing three name changes to playing host to performances by some of the very biggest music stars, such as the legendary Bob Dylan performing his controversial record Saved in 1980, Deep Purple's first concert in Spain in 1985 and Metallica playing their 1992 release Creeping Death. Above all, however, Vallecas will be remembered for hosting the third from last concert by the band that, in many people's opinion, is the best of all time: Queen. On 3 August 1986, Freddie Mercury and co. thoroughly entertained a 25,000-strong crowd, before heading to Marbella and then performing their final concert at Knebworth Park in England.
There are many stories involving players who meant everything to Rayo Vallecano and not just because of their endeavour on the field. One such case is Wilfred Agbonavbare or Willy as the Rayo supporters called him, a modest Nigerian goalkeeper in the 1990s who would become a firm fans' favourite and an example against racism. That is why his name is written alongside a mosaic of him at gate one at the Estadio de Vallecas (which was renamed after Willy in his memory after his death) and says: "Because of your defence of the Franja goal and your fight against racism. We'll never forget you." Willy, just like Rayo Vallecano as a club, is proof that football is much more than just 11 men against 11.
Follow Vallecano's next match against Leganes live on Futaa