It took barely 10 seconds into Rayo Vallecano's home game with Levante on Thursday night for a familiar chant to ring out. "Presa must go now", shouted the vast majority of the 7,316 crowd in the Estadio de Vallecas. And this time it was not the Rayo President's most vocal opponents, Los Bukaneros, who were behind it.
As is now customary for League games not played at the weekend, Rayo's Ultras sat this one out, with the middle section where they normally stand instead occupied by a huge banner depicting the club’s President Raul Martin Presa naked on all fours, being whipped by a woman with the logo of (Spanish pay television channel) Gol TV for a head, saying "you'll play on Thursday", with Presa responding "yes, master".
Rayo fan groups had organised a "strike on chanting" in protest at the game being played on Thursday, but songs against the President were fair game. The strike was not observed for the whole 90 minutes, with fans getting carried away after Nacho and Piti's wondergoals, but it was indiscernibly quieter than usual.
There is no doubt that Rayo's fans are fed up with with playing on unusual days, and are fed up with their President. Nor do they think the two subjects are unrelated.
Rayo remain in administration after previous owners the Ruiz-Mateos family's business empire went bust, leaving the club with a debt of over €40m. One of their administrators happens to be Javier Tebas, Vice-President of the League and lawyer for MediaPro, which owns Gol TV and the television rights for the majority of clubs in the top two divisions. Sound corrupt? It does to Rayo's fans, who see it as more than a coincidence that their club keep on being handed these awkward kick off times. Seven of their first 19 games will have been scheduled for either a Friday or Monday, while Real Madrid and Barcelona have played all their games on weekends.
But it is not just Presa's cosy relationship with Tebas that fuels Rayo fans’ anger. A little-known entrepreneur and businessman – he still does not have a Wikipedia page – no one had heard of Presa until he took the club over in May 2011 from the Ruiz-Mateos family. He did so without handing over a cent, fuelling speculation that he is a mere puppet for the family that almost sent the club under.
Presa does not conduct himself well either – he asked former Coach and fans favourite Jose Ramon Sandoval to return the bonus he was awarded for winning the club promotion to La Liga and then refused to renew his contract despite keeping the impoverished club in the top flight last term.
Presa also made empty promises to players about when they would be paid, and takes a €200,000 wage from the indebted club. He has hardly endeared himself to the fans either, by organising a ‘Dia del Club’ for the visits of Real Madrid and Barcelona last season – and for the Madrid game this season – obliging season ticket holders to buy their own seats.
The ill feeling was compounded last week when Presa convened the annual shareholders meeting without advertising it to all shareholders, meaning just six of a total of 70 minority shareholders turned up, with the President receiving a rousing reception, which would have been unlikely had all shareholders attended.
But despite the bad blood between the fans and Presa, things are going brilliantly for the club on the field. They are currently 8th in the league on 25 points, 12 points clear of the relegation and three points away from a Champions League spot.
No one in their right mind could surely imagine Rayo in Europe’s elite competition next season but the fact that they are no longer looking over their shoulders is a testament to the fine work of Coach Paco Jemez. The former Rayo defender has got the team playing attractive football and their previously shambolic defence has also tightened up in recent weeks. But despite this progress, many fans are indifferent to Jemez, who, in contrast to Sandoval, never speaks out against Presa and toes the party line.
In the Coach’s defence, the example of his predecessor shows he’d be advised to forget about off field matters and let the team’s results do the talking, which is exactly what he has done.