MADRID - Five kilometres away from the
home of the world's richest football club Real Madrid, Rayo
Vallecano look to be winning their battle to join them in
Spain's top division despite playing without getting paid.
The club from the working class district of Vallecas to the
south east of Madrid's city centre beat title rivals Real Betis
to go top of the second division on Sunday, a month after their
owners filed to go into administration.
Rayo's majority shareholder Jose Maria Ruiz-Mateos last
month applied for his Nueva Rumasa business to be protected from
its creditors in 10 of its divisions, including the
cash-strapped club which has debts of around 22 million euros
on a budget of 18 million.
Ruiz-Mateos spent time in prison for tax evasion during the
1980s after the government was forced to step in and take over
his previous business empire when they ran into financial
Rayo's predicament is far from unique to Spanish football
though their staff are perhaps the worst off out of all the
teams in the top two divisions.
Sunday's visitors Betis are already in administration, and
third-placed Celta Vigo have just come out of it, while
top-flight Real Mallorca were barred from playing in the Europa
League this season after taking a similar course of action.
Last week, Rayo's team captain Michel had explained the
situation at their nearby training ground, where a handful of
fans and reporters hung around the dressing room door in a
manner that would be unthinkable up the road at Real Madrid
City, the largest sports complex ever built by a football club.
"The economic problems affect the team," the 35-year-old
midfielder told Reuters, "but we have to focus on the sporting
side of things and hope there is a rapid solution to it all.
"We are owed money from last season. We have received some
money, it is different for each player, but they still owe us
money from last year. The club are looking to be able to do
something for us as soon as possible."
Michel came up through the Rayo youth ranks and is a veteran
of the side that achieved the club's highest ever finish of
ninth in La Liga in 2000 which qualified them for the UEFA Cup
under former Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur boss Juande
They eventually fell to fellow Spaniards Alaves in the
quarter-finals of their first European campaign, the Basque club
going on to lose to Liverpool in the 2001 final.
He clearly identifies with the club's fans who have given
their backing to the squad and staff, even organizing some
The fans have directed their anger at club president Teresa
Rivero, the wife of Ruiz-Mateos, calling for her and the family
to leave after 18 years at the helm.
The petitions for her to go grew after she suggested the
players were not really interested in promotion following an
earlier protest by the squad, though she later apologised for
"The fans are also worried because of the situation with the
club," Michel added. "Given that we are in the fight to win
promotion, they also want to see the light or hear something
new, so that they know the players are only thinking about
"The fans have shown their support for the team, and their
unhappiness with the situation we are going through."
On Sunday, Rayo fans waved red cards and chanted for Rivero
to go in the 15th and 60th minutes of the match as per leaflets
that had been distributed at the entrance gates.
Although there had been some ugly scenes outside the stadium
when fans clashed with police and set a car on fire, inside the
protests were orderly, if noisy, despite the stadium hosting a
match for the first time without fences between the supporters
and the pitch in over 30 years.
The Rayo players, in their distinctive white shirts with a
red stripe running diagonally across the front, took to the
pitch carrying a banner saying 'Rayo Solution now', and went on
to win the game 1-0 with a 65th minute volley from striker Piti.
The 15,500 capacity Teresa Rivero stadium is wedged in a
residential district and only has covered stands down the sides,
so when Piti scored fans watching from balconies in a block of
flats which overlook one goal were able to celebrate along with
the rest of sell-out crowd.
The Rayo fans appear to be close to getting their wish.
Club general manager Jesus Fraile told Reuters by telephone:
"The situation is that the Ruiz-Mateos family have decided to
put the club up for sale so we are in touch with some interested
parties. This is a situation affecting many clubs in the world
After Sunday's win, Teresa Rivero told Spanish radio: "I
preferred to stay at home because it is very disagreeable
everything that is happening. On Saturday, there were a group of
fans at the door to my house using megaphones.
"The best for all concerned is to sell as soon as possible.
It could go through in two or three weeks."
In the meantime, Rayo's unpaid players and staff have to
continue their push for promotion and with 11 matches left to
play they hold a two-point lead at the top.
"If we win promotion the problems will be smaller," Michel
added. "The important thing is that we fight for and achieve
promotion. For a neighbourhood like Vallecas, and for a fanbase
like the one we have, our efforts are really little in
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