In May 2011 Rayo Vallecano was 22 million euros in debt. It had just entered bankruptcy and the players had gone unpaid for much of the season, but the barrio of Vallecas in the south east of Madrid was full of many happy faces. You see the club had just won promotion to La Primera and just as importantly, Teresa Rivero Sánchez-Romate, or Dame Teresa, was no longer President. Happy days indeed. It is not the first time Rayo had reached La Primera, they won promotion on five previous occasions and have now clocked-up a total of 15 seasons in La Primera. However, given all of the off-field distractions, this latest promotion must be the least expected and above all, the sweetest ascent.
The story of Rayo Vallecano goes back to 29 May 1924 when Agrupación Deportiva El Rayo was formed. Rayo is Spanish for lightening and the club kicked around the local leagues for the next 20-odd years, one of many small clubs in the Vallecas district that was quickly being absorbed by the capital. By 1947 they were the district's senior team and changed their name to Agrupación Deportiva Rayo Vallecano and two years later played the 1949-50 season, their first in the Tercera, as a subsidiary of Atlético Madrid. The club also adopted its distinctive red sash in 1949 after receiving shirts from Club River Plate of Argentina, who had used the club's Campo de El Rodival for training in the lead up to a friendly with Real Madrid. El Rodival remained the club's home ground until the mid fifties, then for a couple of seasons, the club led a nomadic existence until the renovation of Campo de Vallecas, the former home of Atlético Madrid, was complete in December 1957. The handicap of not having a permanent home did not hinder Rayo as the club won promotion to La Segunda at the end of the 1955-56 season.
The stay in La Segunda lasted five years, with a highest place finish in 1959-60 of fifth. Relegation followed in the following season, but four seasons later and with their second Tercera title secured, Rayo was back in La Segunda. This time Rayo had a look of permanence about them and the club was soon establishing themselves as one of the front-runners in the division. Fourth place was achieved in 1967-68 and the club was not out of the top ten in any of the first eight seasons back in La Segunda. In October 1972 the club moved away from Campo de Vallecas whilst a new stadium was developed on the site. For three and a half years they played their matches in the centre of Madrid at the Campo de Vallehermoso. Form dropped a little whilst at Vallehermoso and in 1975 Rayo had to overcome UP Langreo in a relegation play-off. Finally on 10 May 1976, the Estadio Nuevo Vallecas opened with Rayo winning 1-0 in a league match against Cádiz. Meanwhile, Campo de Vallehermoso, which was stood just a mile or so south west of the Bernabéu, saw out its days as an athletics stadium until it was demolished in the autumn of 2008.
Under the management of Víctor Núñez and buoyed by the momentum of a new stadium, Rayo remained unbeaten at home throughout the 1976-77 season, which is just as well considering their very ordinary away form. A points total of 45 was two clear of fourth placed Real Jaen and secured Rayo's promotion to La Primera. Their impressive home form continued during their first season at the top level, with reigning champions Barcelona and champions elect Real Madrid, losing at the Estadio Nueva Vallecas. The only defeat came at the hands of relegated Elche CF. Away form was still a problem however, with Athletic Bilbao and Valencia handing out drubbings. In the end, Rayo finished a very creditable tenth place. The 1978-79 season proved altogether more difficult for Rayo as clubs began to find a way of returning from Estadio Nuevo Vallecas with points. In the end, despite continuing poor away form, which included a 0-9 tonking at Barcelona, Rayo hung on to their top flight status by one point. The end to their first visit to La Primera came at the end of the 1979-80 season when a total of 26 points saw them finish in sixteenth position.
|The Nuevo Estadio Vallecas soon after opening|
Rayo came within a point of an immediate return to La Primera, losing out on a worse head to head record with third placed Racing Santander. There followed two seasons of diminishing returns matched by emptying coffers off the pitch, before a disastrous 1983-84 season saw the club finish in last place in La Segunda and drop to the third tier. Segunda 2b consisted of two divisions of 20 teams in 1984-85 and Rayo had little trouble topping Group II, the southern division, three points ahead of second place Albacete. It took a further four seasons of steady growth in La Segunda before Rayo won promotion back to La Primera. This was achieved at the end of the 1988-89 season and whilst home form was respectable, it was Rayo's impressive 10 wins on the road that sealed second place. Rayo struggled back in La Primera and finished bottom of the table. The confident away form of a season earlier had evaporated and they lost all but one of their matches away from home, the only respite coming in a 0-0 draw at fellow relegation fodder, Celta Vigo.
Out of La Primera and with massive debts, the club needed a saviour. Luckily one arrived in 1991 in the shape of José María Ruiz-Mateos. Under his presidency, the club wiped out the debt, changed the name to Rayo Vallecano de Madrid and won back a place in La Primera.Not bad for a first years work. In their first season back in the top level, 1992-93, Rayo finished fourteenth. The following season saw the club struggle to a seventeenth place finish and lose the subsequent relegation play-off to SD Compostela. In January of that season, Ruiz-Mateos handed over the presidency to his wife, Teresa Rivero. Rayo added to their reputation as a yo-yo team by finishing second in La Segunda in 1994-95, spend a two seasons in the top flight before losing again in the 1996-97 relegation play-offs to RCD Mallorca.
The reign of Dame Teresa was in full swing as Rayo won back their Primera place at the end of the 98-99 season despite finishing in fifth place. Rayo took the final play-off position due to the fact that Atletico Madrid B, who finished second, were not eligible for promotion. Rayo took full advantage of the opportunity beating Extremadura CF 4-0 on aggregate. What followed over the next few years was the most successful period in the clubs history. The ninth place attained at the end of the 1999-00 season was the club's highest ever final placing and thanks to their excellent disciplinary record, earned them a place in the UEFA cup. Their first campaign in Europe was memorable and featured aggregate wins over Constelació Esportiva of Andorra (16-0), Molde of Norway (2-1), Viborg of Denmark (2-2 - away goals), Lokomotiv Moscow (2-0) and Bourdeux (6-2). Their run ended in the quarter finals where Deportivo Alaves won the tie 4-2 on aggregate. Understandably, the long run in Europe had an impact on league form as Rayo finished the 2000-01 season in fourteenth place. Later in 2001, in an act that lacked a certain magnanimity, the stadium was renamed Estadio Teresa Rivero.
In 2001-02, Rayo achieved an eleventh place finish, but with many of the better players moving on, it was only a matter of time before relegation came a-calling. That arrived in June 2003 when Rayo finished bottom in La Primera with 32 points, 11 shy of safety. If that wasn't bad enough, what followed had the Rayistas crying in their cervezas. A second successive relegation in 2003-04 saw the club in Segunda 2b for the first time in twenty years and playing regionalised football little over three years after appearing in a UEFA quarter final. If the club thought the stay in the third tier would be short, they were in for a shock. Defeats in the end of season play-offs in 2005 & 2007 (they didn't even make the play-off in 2006) added to the fans agony. They finally won promotion back to La Segunda after winning the Tercera in 2007-08 and seeing off Benidorm and Zamora in the play-offs. Three years later they are back in La Primera thanks to a great second place finish, despite all of the turmoil off the pitch.
It would be easy to paint the Ruiz-Mateos family and in particular Teresa Rivero as the villains of the piece, but the truth is that their reign was full of light and shade. There were the highs of the European run and the visits to La Primera where many of the top dogs limped away from Vallecas, licking their wounds. But you cannot ignore the lows of the longest period in the third level since the mid 1960's and the huge debts the club incurred. This and a perceived reluctance to sell the club led to a huge amount of resentment towards Dame Teresa from the disenfranchised fans. Rayo are not out of the woods just yet, but with new owners and the added revenue from playing in La Primera, they are certainly in a better position to survive.
|The popular West Fondo with its Players & Officials entrances|
The stadium was renamed the Estadio de Vallecas in late 2011 and over the years, it has proved to be an intimidating arena, but why? When it opened back in 1976, it had a capacity of 20,000 with the lower portions of each stand featuring terracing rather than seats. The terraces lasted until 1996, when new seats were installed throughout the stadium reducing the capacity to 15,500. It was also the final stadium in Spain to feature security fences, but rather symbolically the new owners removed them in March 2011. As the first row of seats were too close to the pitch, a further 792 seats were removed, leaving the current capacity at 14,708. The two main stands are steeply raked and identical, except the the middle tier of the southern stand features a band of red seats and the directors box. The rest of the blocks of seats in both stands are white with a distinctive red sash, which is nice touch. The popular west terrace also has this seating configuration, but behind the goal are entrances for the players and officials, as the changing facilities sit under this terrace. I haven't mentioned the east end of the ground because there isn't one, or rather so tight are the local tenements to the ground, all that stands behind that goal is a wall full of advertising.
Yes, the configuration of Estadio de Vallecas is unique in top level Spanish football, but this is only part of the reason. As with any intimidating arena, design only plays a part. You need atmosphere and passion, and whilst there may only be 14,700 of them crammed into home matches, you can guarantee that the Rayistas will be breathing down the necks of the oppositon during every minute of every game.