Aficionados of Football Culture will readily tell you that the most high-profile fan groups in Madrid identify with the Right. The Frente Atlético of- get this- Atlético de Madrid and the banned Ultras Sur group of Real Madrid CF (who occupied the South stand of the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu before the corporate and business-friendly “Grada de Animación” were allocated their space) both openly declare themselves to be fan groups espousing right-wing politics.
This is to be expected. Atlético famously existed for many years as the Football club of the Spanish Air Force, and in the public perception Real have evolved to carry the cross of “club for Spanish nationalists, monarchists and/or Franquists” (we will stick to this awkward summary for the sake of simplicity. For a more comprehensive understanding of Real Madrid CF’s role in contemporary Spanish culture, please read the excellent book “Fear And Loathing In La Liga” written by Sid Lowe). Employees and associates of the Air Force will understandably favour a strong state and have a vested interest in increased public expenditure in the forces, and an obvious choice of Football club to support for these individuals has resulted in an Atlético fan culture that has largely internalised these center-right politics views. Meanwhile the narrative of a modern Real Madrid representing an ideology of Spanish union and homogeneous rule from Madrid over all of Spain’s autonomous communities (where separatism may form part of mainstream political sentiment) means that, whether or not this narrative is historically accurate, center-right voters who support the notion of strong Spanish governance largely gravitate toward the club.
An outsider could therefore look at the Football culture of Madrid as being entirely dominated by the center-right. However, a short metro ride to the city’s South East will shatter this view entirely. As soon as you pass the monolithic Puente de Vallecas bridge, Madrid’s conservatism is torn apart by a small barrio awash with all the colours of the rainbow.
As you walk toward Potazgo, the diversity of the pedestrians coming the other way cannot be ignored. Neither can the abundance of Antifa stickers and pro-LGBT shopfronts. Vallecas is famed for its existence for decades as a destination for low-skilled migrants to Madrid. The result is a 21st century hub of cultural diversity. Burrito vans, falafel bars and Chinese restaurants happily sit side-by-side here in the Avenida de la Albufera. Yet in a country where there existed very little religious freedom until the mid-70’s (when Spain’s abrupt transition to democracy sparked dramatic changes in both public and private life), Vallecas has never been a hotbed for religious extremism of any kind, a striking difference to many go-to neighbourhoods for international immigrants in other Western European cities. Vallecas does not feel like Neukölln or Wedding of Berlin, not like Jordaan of Amsterdam or Bolton or Oldham on the outskirts of Manchester.
A combination of low-skilled immigration and a distinct traditional aversion to religious pluralism in Spain has inadvertently resulted in a secular culture of racial tolerance and socialist principles in Vallecas. The Vallecanos see themselves as demographic and political outsiders to the otherwise very Catholic, ostentatious and traditional culture that is ubiquitous in Madrid’s more middle-class suburbs. This “vibe” peaks as you eventually arrive at the Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas, the home of Rayo Vallecano.
With several hours to kill before the match I was attending kicked-off, I circumnavigated the ground. To the South-East, a block of flats occupies the area that would otherwise be needed to construct a tribune behind the goal. As such, this stadium remains an oddity in Spanish Football. This ground is home to a competing La Liga side yet only boasts three stands, and is unlikely to build a fourth any time soon. The intimacy with which the Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas sits between these blocks of flats that accommodate Madrid’s working classes is romantic, and appropriate. As a thirty-ish woman hangs her washing out on the line, the South stand watches over her. No structure separates the pitch from the overlooking residential towers; tenants are welcome to peer through their windows to spectate the action on the pitch. While the barrio’s leftist counterculture has manifested itself in an internalised club-culture of LGBT jerseys, feminist activism and socialist graffiti, the ground itself remains an integral part of this neighbourhood’s architecture, both metaphorically and physically reaching out into wider society.
The Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas does not loom large on the horizon in the same way that the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, the Estadio Vicente Calderón or the Wanda Metropolitano do. It forms a seamless part of Vallecas, refusing to build barriers to distance itself from the working-classes that have made this part of Madrid exactly what it is today. This stadium, and indeed this club, are committed to this part of town and all that it stands for. And, in keeping with a socialist, proletariat-friendly agenda, it is not the club nor any private entity that owns the Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas. It remains property of the Community of Madrid. A far cry from the other money-grabbing Football stadia to be found in the Spanish capital.