Not so much a football match as an outbreak of naked class war.
Rich v poor, city slickers v working class, left wing v right wing. In Spain, supporting a club is often a loaded political stance. Think of Barcelona’s ‘Mas que un club’. This was no different.
Before the match, the Rayo Ultras – known as Bukaneros – unveiled a giant banner that covered the entire Fondo Sur. It read: ‘Somos pobre como orgullo con cojones como punos’ – ‘We are poor, but proud, with testicles like fists’.
Vallecas is region in the south east of Madrid. Fairly nondescript compared to the vibrant, fascinating centre.
On my previous visit in 1989 – a 2-1 victory over Sevilla, a year they finished bottom – I remember thinking of the stadium: “It’ll be nice when it’s finished.”
Apartment blocks mean development at one end is out of the question so it remains a blank white wall.
Twenty-three years later and, yes, it’ll be nice when it’s finished.
Last year was their best season ever of the 15 they have spent in the first division. They qualified for the Europa League but, because of debts, were prevented from taking part, their place going to Sevilla.
Famous former players include Mexican striker Hugo Sanchez and England’s Laurie Cunningham.
But it’s also famous for being a working-class club that sets its face against Atletico and Real fans, some of whom are accused of being Nazis.
Somos pobre como orgullo con cojones como punos
At the tatty taquilla (ticket office) before the match, the clerk, who was blind in his right eye sold me a ticket for 40 euros. He said: “Fondo Sur. No Real. Ultras!” like he thought I would run out of the ticket office door screaming for mummy.
It did set me thinking though.
As the banner was unveiled over our heads, two young men – Henri and Rod – said I shouldn’t film on the phone. “Policia,” they insisted in a friendly manner before informing me that the heavy policing outside the game was to ensure the Real ‘Nazis’ did not come to the ground for a punch-up.
It was a strange request given that the game was live on TV but not being on home territory and outnumbered it seemed sensible to comply.
But they were adamant that the Ultras believed pictures could be used against them and it was clear that no one was filming on the terrace.
What an amazing occasion – Gareth Bale reduced a full back to tears, literally, Real were played off the park for almost the entire second half and the intense atmosphere generated by 11,000 fans will never be forgotten.
Real’s seven-goal stuffing of Sevilla didn’t stop Carlo Ancelotti making six changes. Marcelo, Arbeloa, Isco, Varane, clod-hopping Khedira and Illarramendi were dropped. Quite right too – bizarrely, despite the convincing win, all bar Isco had been poor.
In came Xabi Alonso, Coentrao, De Maria, Carvajal, Modric and the man I’d always wanted to see ever since a Dutch coach at Euro 2012 told me what a crazy headbanger he was – the Portuguese centre-half Pepe.
Zidane accompanied Ancelotti on the bench and the tension ratcheted up as the Bukaneros unveiled the terrace-filling balls-out declaration of undying pride.
Underneath, we couldn’t see a thing, a cloud of cannabis smoke swept across us – lighting up is not banned here – and Rayo’s Game of the Season was about to start.
Ronaldo duped the right back after three minutes and advanced into the penalty area to make it 1-0 to Real.
What looked the turning point of the game came after about 27 minutes when Rayo netted only to have the effort ruled out for offside.
The chant was aired: “Equipo siempre robando.” – Real always thieving.
Worse followed when the Benzema bonanza bandwagon hurtled on. Bale escaped down the right and put in a perfect cross to the Frenchman who scored with a great header from eight yards.
Three minutes into the second half and an outstanding piece of Welsh skill. A ball looked to be going out of play on the right touchline – Bale and Arbilla contested it. Bale flipped it over Arbilla’s head, leaving him for dead, raced away to to the penalty area and crossed for Ronaldo to finish from close range.
Arbilla was substituted seconds later and was seen sobbing his eyes out in the dugout afterwards.
But from that moment – a seemingly dead 3-0 to the most expensive team in the world – the match escalated into the best second-half I’ve ever seen.
Marcelo conceded the first penalty, fouling Buena in the 52nd minute. It seemed like small beer. Jonathan Viera converted it like so …
Two minutes later, the headbanger Pepe fouled Viera and all hell let loose. The ultras had pretty much given up hope by now soo this was Christmas.
Viera stepped up and
The guy next to me, took out his chunk of cannabis and contentedly rolled up another spliff.
How Rayo didn’t equalise in the remaining 36 minutes is a matter of wonder. They reduced Real to rubble at the back. Arbeloa came on and had another poor match, Coentrao was forced off and left back Marcelo was tortured by the Guinean Lass.
Viera danced around Arbeloa and Pepe. Sergio Ramos’s headers weren’t powerful enough. Rayo kept surging forward, winning nearly all aerial balls and maybe just snatching at their shots when composure might have won them the game.
Attacks came in thrilling waves in front of the Fondo Sur, whose proximity to the Real keeper Diego Lopez must have made him fear for his physical safety.
Rayo hit the post, forced Lopez into countless saves generally caused panic but couldn’t quite get a third.
In between Ronaldo forced a brilliant double save from Rayo’s Ruben. It just ratcheted up the tension. Not just the ultras on the terrace were screaming. On both sides fans in the stands were standing up and chanting ‘Forza Rayo allez’ and a version of the Marseillaise. They shrieked and bellowed for the entire half.
To no avail. The whistle went. I’ve never seen a team from the bottom dominate a top side so wonderfully.
And this was no ordinary top side – it contained two of the best players in the world – one the most expensive player in the history of the game.
A brilliant, brilliant display. It turned me into a Rayista for life. Shame I live 1,500 miles away.
Henri and Rod filled me in on Rayo’s working class credentials. A season ticket is 196 euros (about 180 quid) and with little work for people their age, supporting the club is a huge part of their lives.
On condition I didn’t take any photographs I was led to the Bukaneros fan bar nearby.
No windows, the door led through to a medium-sized white hall. On the walls were Rayo scarves, murals and a banner which read ‘Boot Boys’ in a heavy metal album cover font.
There was a small bar and a table tennis table in the middle of the room. A DJ played punk tunes and Henri and Rod asked me: “Do you like Discharge, 4Skins (80s punk bands)?”
We spent about 20 minutes there before deciding to call it a day.
With regret but inspired by a marvellous night out, I turned for one last look at the partying, ping-pong-playing pirates, listening to the Angelic Upstarts.