It’s reaching boiling point in Vallecas this summer, where Rayo Vallecano fans are not renewing their season tickets. They are also planning all-out protests against the club owner and directors outside the stadium for the first two home games of the season. Descendants of the club’s founders have called on the current owners to not strip the club of its values in an emotional letter that fell on the side of the boycotting fans.
The reasons for the fury are multifold, and begin with the prices, but cannot be fully understood without a deeper inspection. Season ticket prices have risen between 20% and 77% in comparison to the 2017/18 campaign, the last year Rayo played in the second division. Anger among the supporters goes much deeper than just the prices, though.
Rayo have a fanbase that pride themselves on the social activity and the solidarity efforts of themselves and of the club that is inseparable from its working-class area that is known to have many structural problems. Season ticket costs in the section for the physically differently-abled have hiked up between 50-70%, leading to more fan ire.
Graffiti against the increases in prices have littered the stadium in the past weeks since the season ticket renewals campaign began. Fans have even resorted to outlining the much more affordable prices of teams such as Huesca, Alcorcón, and Cádiz in spray paintings on the walls of the stadium and around the working-class Vallecas neighbourhood, as well as plenty of calls for club president, Raúl Martín Presa, to leave.
Women’s football is growing steadily and strongly all across Spain, on the back of some record-breaking attendances in the Liga Iberdrola last year. Barcelona reached the Champions League final for the first time, and the hugely popular Women’s World Cup in France this summer. However, if Rayo fans want to see their women’s team play this campaign, it will cost them an additional €50-60 for a season ticket there, making them one of the only teams in the women’s league that have separate season tickets between their men’s and women’s teams.
Rayo Femenino legend Natalia Pablos called the price hikes “exorbitant” and says that charging so much to see Rayo’s women’s team play is a way for Presa to undermine the women’s section of the club. “[Presa] is trying to show that people aren’t interested in the women’s team, and even though the reality is that the team generates a lot of income, he is trying to invest as little as possible into the side,” she explained in an interview with Pasión Por El Rayo.
“It is not a question of just €20-40, it’s using our women’s team in a stupid war,” one season ticket holder of around 40 years lamented on Twitter. “Above all when the club calls itself a defender of equality.” He’s not alone expressing his sadness of having to lose their impressively low ‘member number,’ which indicates how long they’ve held their season ticket for that is a point of much pride among many football fans.
On top of these reasons, the club have released no information on whether or not season tickets cover any potential playoff matches, should Rayo finish between 3rd and 6th, leading fans to suspect they would be asked to fork out once again just to be present to help push their team over the last hurdle in any promotion push.
Meetings between fan groups and club directors have led to no agreements. ADRV Accionistas, an organization of Rayo fans fighting the club on the season tickets issue, held mediation talks with the club in late July. Following the meeting, the group tweeted: “We’ll sum up the meeting with the club in one word: NOTHING. The club only wanted to negotiate prolonging the ticket renewal period. We wanted to speak about values, feelings, history, children, disabled fans, the women’s team. They just wanted to talk about numbers. We are very sorry.”
Values, feelings, and history mean a lot to fans of Rayo Vallecano, and to have these intangible aspects discarded so quickly feels a lot to them like having their club taken away from them. The ownership’s disregard for these elements that give Rayo Vallecano its soul is something that fans have protested about for a long time, with “Presa vete ya” (“Presa, leave now”) being chanted at every match for years.
The anger in the protests that are being held now do not come just from increasing the amount of money fans need to pay this summer, but rather the culmination of years of frustration the fans have felt of the mismanagement of Presa.
A hugely disappointing campaign which saw them relegated to the second division began with a stadium forcibly closed due inadequate safety measures in the stadium. As it turned out, the ground had not passed safety regulation since 2013. The Vallecas stadium did see the season opener, a 1-4 beating at the hands of Sevilla, played at that ground while delayed maintenance works were still ongoing.
Images of stands being held up by scaffolding and stories of match attendees falling in holes inside the ground left a sense of relief that no serious injuries occurred on the night. After this, one match against Athletic Bilbao needed to be rescheduled, a repair works ridiculously concluded with farcical images of six construction workers jumping up and down at seats, supposedly ensuring the safety of the newly-fortified stand.
In truth, a whole book could be written about why Rayo fans think Presa is managing the club poorly. But supporters were given one extra reason to call for the removal of the club directors weeks after this season ticket fiasco had already started. It emerged that club legend, local hero, youth product, former manager and former captain, Míchel, was suing the club for unpaid money owed to him following his dismissal as coach near the end of last season.
Despite having spent the vast majority of last campaign in the relegation zone, Míchel remained hugely popular among the fans, who overall were against his firing and only wanted the best for him. The embarrassment to now see their former manager taking their club to court over unpaid wages and dismissal payments rubs salt into the wounds of the hurt Rayo fans, and just gives them even more reason to fight against what they see as the ineptitudes of the current owner.