23 April ~ Ask anyone who follows Spanish football to name Madrid's third club and they would probably suggest Getafe, who are currently eighth in La Liga. But until recently that status was held by another club, who are now struggling to avoid relegation from the second level. This is Rayo Vallecano, from Vallecas, traditionally an Andalucian and Extremaduran immigrant town located in the south east of Madrid. At the end of last year, Rayo's coach Pepe Mel was being tipped as one of the favourites for the vacant Real Zaragoza job, a testament to the fact that the club was third in Segunda Division A. Two months later, in February 2010 and Mel was packing his bags, sacked by Rayo after seven games without a win.
Mel arrived at Rayo in 2007 when they were in Segunda B – Spain's regionalised third tier – and transformed them into a team with serious ambitions to gain promotion to the Primera. The harsh exit was made all the worse for Mel considering he had turned down the Real Betis job in 2009, saying he wanted to stay with Rayo and continue the work he had started. The club's poor run of form has continued under temporary boss Felipe Minambres. With nine games to play they are five points above the relegation zone, with a match tonight, against Gimnastic.
Although Rayo have never been among the best footballing sides in Spain, their support is widely respected. Their passionate fans have continued the town's tradition as a leftwing working class neighbourhood. On a match day at the shabby 15,000 capacity Teresa Rivero stadium you will see Spanish republican flags and Che Guevara banners on display, while the team's anti-fascist Ultra group the Bukaneros roar on their side, led by three men with megaphones who stand with their backs to the pitch, directing the songs and demanding constant noise whatever the result.
Given their dramatic collapse in form, Rayo will need all the encouragement possible from those fans if they are to avoid relegation. The club has spent the majority of its professional history in the Segunda A and has been in the Primera on a few occasions, reaching a pinnacle in 2001 when they got to the quarter-finals of the UEFA cup under coach Juande Ramos. Rayo sunk to the depths of the third tier Segunda B in 2005, and after finally achieving promotion in 2008 after two near misses, they will be desperate to avoid a return to the poorly attended league where a quarter of the clubs in the division are 'B' teams of La Liga outfits, including the second strings of both Real Madrid and Atletico. Although at least they wouldn't have the ignominy of having to play Getafe's nursery side. Richard Martin