Working Class Heroes

Working Class Heroes – The Story of Rayo Vallecano Madrid’s Forgotten Team

Written by Robbie Dunne

Published by Pitch Publishing2017

Robbie Dunne moved to Spain in 2016 following a Spanish girlfriend. As an avid sports fan and with an appetite to travel he found that a fascination with one of Madrid’s other teams Rayo Vallecano enabled him to immerse himself in the language and culture. He produced the book about the club that he strung together around their 2016/17 seasons games and has fashioned a career as a sports journalist.

Having been relegated the season before from La Liga there was great expectancy that they may swiftly return. On field troubles with players, three manager in the season and with a vociferous campaign against the owners it all goes badly wrong until rescued at the end.

That is the background story as Robbie tells a story of a club from Vallecas the last real Barrio in Madrid that holds on tenaciously to its working class heritage. The area was subsumed by Greater Madrid in 1950 but has resisted the gentrification that has gone on elsewhere.

Rayo Vallecano were formed in May 1929, and are known for its many ups and downs in the Spanish League system having been in La Liga a few times but mostly in the Segunda Division. It’s arguably best times were finishing 9th in the top league in the 1999/00 season qualifying for the UEFA cup through the Fair Play League. They did magnificently reaching the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup and as always with a limited budget but some inspired low price signings and loans.

Rayo’s working class credentials comes from the area but is also from a section of the fans called the Bukaneros who often display anti fascist, racism and the commercialisation of football banners and songs at games. There have also been players who have identified with the area and its working class struggle.

An example of the clubs social awareness was in 2014 when the Manager, Paco Jemez and the team hearing of the plight of a local 85 year old woman being evicted from her house clubbed together to ensure that the bailiffs did not evict her and covered her housing costs for the rest of her life.

During the time that Robbie Dunne was writing the book the Rayo management signed Roman Zozulya who lasted only one training session because of his alleged political views. I have used a piece from ‘Football Espana’ that I have highlighted in blue to explain much better than I could.

History between Rayo and Zozulya

Zozulya and Rayo Vallecano have history – the player was briefly on the books at Rayo in January 2017, when he lasted just half a training session before fans made it abundantly clear he was not welcome at the club. They attended the training session he took part in, and displayed a banner outlining that “Vallecas is no place for Nazis.” Very shortly after, the loan deal was terminated.

The fans at Rayo are proudly and strongly left-wing, and promote anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-homophobic, and anti-misogynistic values. When their club signed the attacker on loan in January 2017, the idea of seeing a person they believed to harbour far-right views wear the famous red sash jersey of Rayo was simply unacceptable.

In the build-up to the announcement of the signing, fans researched the background of the player, and found an abundance of evidence that links him with the far-right paramilitary organisation Azov Battalion in his native Ukraine. There are also many photographs of the player posing with Nazi, fascist, and white supremacy symbols and figures. Shortly after the incident gained national headlines, Rayo fans published a nine-page dossier on the historical ties between Zozulya and far-right groups and organisations, to explain to the world exactly the reasons behind their rejection of this signing. For his part, Zozulya completely denies the accusation he is a Nazi, and explains his political leanings and past involvement with paramilitary organisations as solely “patriotic.”

This was a Christmas present and a good one although I found reading it at night and trying to absorb all of the Spanish names a challenge. As yet Robbie Dunne has not published a further book, I am looking out for it.

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