With their distinctive red lightning-bolt stripe (‘rayo’), the flagship club of working-class Vallecas only became Rayo Vallecano as late as 1995. Before then, the club was the Rayo Athletics Association, with a modest history dating back to 1924.
Gaining promotion to the top flight in 1977, shortly after the inauguration of the intimate Estadio de Vallecas where they remained unbeaten all that season, Rayo only managed three seasons in La Liga before another decade with the smaller fish.
In the early 1990s, controversial businessman José María Ruiz-Mateos assumed control of Rayo, passing ownership to his wife, Teresa Rivero, who became the first female president of a top-flight Spanish club.
This mother-of-13 presided over the most successful era in the club’s history, briefly topping the Spanish league and reaching the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup.
The Rayo women’s team also became one of Spain’s best. Fans later voted to name the stadium after her, but Ruiz-Mateos was forced to release control of his shares in the club in 2011 – the year Rayo gained promotion back to the top flight. A creditable eighth place in 2013 under coach Paco represents the highest league finish in Rayo’s history. Sadly Europa League participation for 2013-14 was refused as Rayo lacked a UEFA licence.
Rayo at least made headlines and no few friends in June 2015 when they announced that their change strip for 2015-16 would feature six colours, each for an underprivileged social group, and each of whom would gain financial recompense on shirt sales.
In terms of on-the-field success, it was all to no avail as the Vallecanos finished 18th and will spend 2016-17 in the Segunda.
The modest but somehow quite wonderful Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas stands right by Portazgo metro station in the heart of the left-leaning working-class southern district of Vallecas. Corner bars and Communist graffiti surround a venue that was unveiled in 1976, shortly before Rayo reached the top flight.
Intimate, so intimate it seems to have been squeezed into the residential buildings on all sides, the former Estadio Teresa Rivero has seen Rayo yo-yo between divisions, as well as witnessing a number of notable rock stars perform, from Bob Dylan to Metallica.
Slight renovations to the laterales in 2011 has reduced capacity to its current 14,700. The away entrance is on main Avenida de la Albufera, gates 17-19.
Portazgo station on the light-blue M1 metro line, south-east of Atocha, sits on the main road beside the stadium. Turn right out of the train, right out of the barrier, the stadium is signposted. The away entrance is right there too.
There’s a ticket office (Mon-Fri 11am-2pm, 5pm-8pm, Sat 11am-2pm, later/Sun opening on match days) near the Rayo club bar on C/del Payaso Fofó. The cheapest seats are in the Fondo (€35 for derbies, €5-€10 cheaper otherwise), with prices rising to €75 to watch quality opposition from the Tribuna Central, the main stand. Opposite, a place in the Tribuna Alta de Lateral should cost anything up to €50. There’s a smaller, match-day ticket office on Avenida de la Albufera.
The Tienda Oficial Rayo Vallecano (Mon-Fri 11am-2pm, 5.30pm-8.30pm, Sat 11am-2pm, match days) sits on the corner of Avenida de la Albufera and C/del Payaso Fofó, press bell for entrance on quieter days. You’ll find copies of Rosa de la Vega’s weighty tome ‘Vallecas y el Rayo Vallecano’ (€35) but for a simple gift bearing the red lightning-bolt stripe, ask for a badge (€2), usually not on display.
Bars line main Avenida de la Albufera opposite the stadium. Along with the standard Cafeteria Disan and Casa Ibericus is the superior El Schiquitin del Albaizin, generous tapas served in a wooden interior, Rayo scarves on the wall, and a dining room at the back.
On the other side of the ground, Cervecería Hermanos Muñoz (C/Carlos Martín Alvarez) is another solid choice.
Don’t think about going to Rayo without visiting the El Cota stadium bar/restaurant on C/del Payaso Fofó, a masterpiece of memorabilia and bright tiles, illustrating the various peña fan groups attached to the club. Look out for snippets of Rayo history, such as a poster for the game with Juventus and photographic evidence of Lawrie Cunningham’s stint here in the mid 1980s. Standard food, cheap lunches and affordable beer are provided, as is a TV screen on the back wall for those who can’t afford/be bothered to nip into the stadium and watch the game.