The world watched on and waited in a state of confusion. Outside nearly 10,000 fans snaked around the Campo de Futbol de Vallecas and its surrounding streets accompanied by its usual aroma of urine and marijuana, whilst players stood around the edge of the tunnels kicking their heels and making small talk.
The reason everyone was waiting was that inside the ground the light was more akin to a five-a-side cage on a bleak winter’s evening than a top-flight La Liga game. The floodlights on one side of the ground had been severely tampered with leaving Real Madrid’s band of a couple of hundred supporters, who had been escorted in before the problem became apparent, in semi-darkness as they sang to keep themselves amused whilst everyone else scurried around looking for answers.
Typically, though, answers were hard to find on the ground. The supporters were kept waiting outside until around 10pm local time before the game was postponed until Monday evening and even then they were informed by word of mouth and Twitter rather than an official announcement. All of which goes to sum up the attitude towards fans that may have caused this whole situation in the first place.
Although not 100 per cent confirmed, it seems pretty clear that the motive for the sabotage was Rayo’s continued policy of ‘dia del club’ whenever Real or Barcelona come to town. Basically this means that even if you have already paid for your season ticket, you must pay again for a ticket, at an inflated price, just to get into to see the champions.
Fittingly, at the end where the club’s eccentric brand of ultras, Los Bukaneros, normally stand there was just one banner that read: ‘No a los dias del club’.
Rayo President, Raul Martin Presa, was obviously quick to try and deny that ticket prices had anything to do with what happened, distancing himself from any blame.
“The saboteurs climbed up to the roof. I do not want to think they have done this because of the prices we set for this game,” he said. “We are very sorry for our fans. We apologise to them. I hope they understand that this is something apart from us because it was an act of vandalism. This is something unimaginable and shameful. I don’t remember anything similar in my time in football.”
Yet, if last night’s events do highlight the issue of fans in Spain, not just at Rayo, but all across the country being screwed over time and again on kick-off times and especially ticket prices in a time of huge economic turmoil, then it has been a necessary evil. Thanks to the remarkable patience and calm demonstrated by the supporters last night there was, as Presa termed it, ‘no tragedies’. The act was cold and calculative but also cunning in its effectiveness.
It is a sad day when fans have to stop a game in order to show they can still have an influence over their clubs. Should it stop other club chairman from continuing with their policies of greed at the expense of those who are the lifeblood of the game though, there could be a bright side to a night of darkness.
On the field meanwhile Real will have to start clawing back a now 11-point gap to Barcelona after they laboured to a late 2-0 win over Granada on Saturday night. In fairness to the Catalans, visiting keeper Tono was in inspired form, but remarkably despite winning all five League games and their Champions League opener, Tito Vilanova’s Barca still fail to completely convince and there was even the rare sight of Lionel Messi losing it with a teammate as his frustration boiled over into a shouting match with David Villa.
Elsewhere, Mallorca kept their great start to the season going with a 2-0 win over Valencia, but don’t be too fooled by either one of these sides’ results so far. Valencia were by far the superior team on Sunday lunchtime and with luck on their side could have won comfortably. Joaquin Caparros’ transformation of Mallorca does deserve credit but at the moment their performances are reaping far more points than they truly merit and a regression to the mean is due in the next few weeks.