29 March ~ Of all the professionals you would expect to take part in a demonstration against austerity measures, footballers are not likely to be top of the list. But today, as Spain prepares itself for a general strike, one football team will be taking to the picket lines. Rayo Vallecano, the La Liga outfit from Vallecas, a working class neighbourhood in Madrid, announced earlier this week they would be joining the millions of Spaniards taking part in the strike. The club's fans are famous for their left-wing principles. Republican flags and Che Guevara banners are a common sight on matchdays in Vallecas, where fans are as likely to sing derogatory chants about the government as they are about the opposition.
Now the players have aligned themselves with the views of the majority of their supporters by refusing to train today. Goalkeeper Joel Robles told a club press conference: "The squad will do a double training session tomorrow (Wednesday) because we've decided that on Thursday we are not going to train. We are all together on this, we are joining the general strike. The decision we have taken is the right one and we all accept it."
Campaigners say a third of Spain's workforce will take part in the strike, which is in protest of new prime minister Mariano Rajoy's plans for €40 billion (£33bn) cuts to public services. Rayo are the only football club to announce their players will not train today, but the players' union, the Asociación de Futbolistas Españoles (AFE), has announced it is backing the strike: "The AFE wants to publicly express its support to the trade unions taking part in the strike on March 29 and show solidarity with all workers."
While fans and footballers at most clubs seem to live in parallel universes, at Rayo there has been a greater understanding between the people in the stands and the players on the pitch since the club was declared bankrupt in February 2011. Many players revealed they had not been paid for months. Veteran midfielder José María Movilla spoke out against the club's president at the time, Teresa Rivero, during an interview on national radio.
After the bankruptcy announcement, the players held demonstrations on the pitch before each game, holding a banner saying "Fix the problem, pay the players," while wearing T-shirts that read: "Rayo and the fans – united by a feeling." Several players displayed the genuinity of this feeling by forfeiting their own wages so non-playing staff could receive theirs.
Despite the financial turmoil Rayo found themselves in, they defied the odds and gained promotion to La Liga. They have impressed many with their attacking football this season and currently lie 12th in the league, 12 points clear of the relegation zone. This has been achieved with an annual budget of just €13m, the lowest in La Liga and equal to the salary Real Madrid pay Cristiano Ronaldo. Richard Martin