From: steve d (rushian77@aol.comdelete)
Date: 2002-04-16 
Subject: It's a long way to Vallecano ...... 

Those of you who have followed La Liga over the last few years, especially the
observant among you, would have seen a hidden enclave of Liverpool support at
one stadium. Behind the goal at the Estadio Teresa Rivero, home to Rayo
Vallecano, a Liverpool flag can be seen at every game. Jorge, the mad Valencia
fan who worked with me for a year, let slip during one of our many football
discussions that the Rayo fans sing a song about their dream being to one day
meet Liverpool in Europe. In the same way that I had to visit Dukla's stadium
once I'd heard Half Man Half Biscuit's "All I want for Christmas is a Dukla
Prague away kit", Rayo held a mystical appeal to me.

Post the Barcelona-Liverpool Champions League game I'd arranged to hook up with
a mate down in Madrid - he being a fan of Ryman League Aldershot, Rayo would
have no meaning to him so it was pretty obvious that Primera Division Real or
Segunda Division Atletico would be our game for the weekend. But no. A flick
through the calendario revealed both were away. Real at Barca, Atletico at
Albacete. Shankly had smiled upon me. I was in with a chance of a chaste
meeting with Rayo.

The plan initially had been to catch a train down to the capital. The night
before I flew to Spain from Luton I did a cursory search on the net and found
out that the train took over 7 hours!!! The capital of Catalunya is far further
east than you (well I) often think and it also appears that the Inter City
train network in Spain only heads southwards from Madrid to Seville etc

So it came to pass that I found myself in Barca airport waiting for a cheap
shuttle flight down to Madrid on the Thursday after the 0-0 draw in the Nou
Camp. Air Europa had come to my rescue for a nice 70 euros. As I wandered
amongst the duty free shops I pondered on the fact I was flying away from the
World's biggest club game, Barca-Real. Sport and politics intrinsically mixed
in this battle of the Spanish giants. And the really gutting thing? I could
have had tickets as well. 

The Boixois Nois (Barca Ultras) had managed to sort me out 6 season tickets for
the Barca-Reds game for mates (much better than the tickets given to the LFC
fans in the 75th tier, and at a very reasonable 100 euros - many LFC fans were
paying 200-250 euros from touts) and after the game I was told Barca-Real could
have been mine at the click of my fingers. If I hadn't booked the flight to
Madrid I would seriously have considered knocking Rayo on the head and dragged
my mate to Catalunya. It wasn't to be and soon I was shaken out of my
listlessness by some god-like visions flicking through the cheap CD section ...

.... could it be, surely not, yes it was, the team. The Team. The Mighty Reds.
Once again I found myself shopping for cheap tobacco and booze along with "By
far the greatest team, the world has ever seen". I'd last brushed shoulders
with them in the airport out in the Ukraine but a touch of gastroenteritis (or
the Kiev Kecks) prevented me from walking amongst these gods. The toilet was a
more immediate concern then. But in Barca I ducked and dived among the red and
white striped ties and blazers. Rock of Ages Sami Hyypia was the most requested
photograph and I felt duty bound to shake his hand and wish him well. Vlad and
Milan flicked through "Artists beginning with C" ... Clannad? Crowded House?
Chicory Tip? who knows how far Czech tastes extend.

Thommo walked by deep in conversation (Gerard more than likely ordering a
vintage French brandy) and Gary Mac was thanked for the thousandth time for
last seasons heroics. Nick Barmby and Jari hustled through followed by The Big
Pole, Igor and Pegguy. I had a quick word with chief executive Rick Parry who
enthused over our prospects against Roma and pointed out the mathematical
possibilities for qualification (something which had taken a couple of drunken
hours to suss post-midnight in a bar off the Ramblas). My flight was called so
I left the Reds with a heavy heart and 90 minutes later landed in Madrid.

After the balmy Spring-like weather in Barca came a shock. It was cold. And
wet. And wet, wet, wet ....... the rain in Spain stays mainly in Madrid. Madrid
would have a couple of months rainfall in the next 3 days. Roads built on
ancient river beds flooded once more. Umbrella salesman sprung up in the
entrance to every metro station. This reminded me of Wales in winter. I didn't
want to be reminded of Wales in winter. But at least I was genetically
advantaged to the climate.

The next few days were spent avoiding downpours whilst doing the usual tourist
route of Madrid. Or more accurately I'd find the protection of a doorway as my
photo-obsessed friend struggled wiping the lens of his camera. A couple of
centuries of wet Spanish buildings were walked past. What about the nights?
Well Madrid lives for its night life. Tapas bar after tapas bar radiates out
from the Puerta del Sol. I must have tried all of them. I've now a PhD in Pork
and its every variety. Call me King Chorizo if you like. A slice of tortilla
for lunch, a few empanadas with a cana late afternoon and then later on the
mehillones and gambas made good headway for my stomach. I loved Madrid, and all
its bars, and friendly passionate people.

On the Saturday afternoon I managed to catch the Boro-Liverpool game in a bar
just off the Plaza Mayor - we didn't play well but Riise got us a nice goal
late on to give us a 2-0 buffer to survive Southgates late header - a
take-the-3-points and run game. The bar had a smattering of scouse refugees
from the trip to Barca with some of them having to leave at half-time, Real
Madrid carrier bags in hand, to catch their flight back to England so I
promised to text them the result. I pondered leaving myself at fulltime but the
ensuing biblical flood outside and a pan-eurofutbol conversation with the
barman who was a mad Real fan forced me (with arm twisted behind my back) to
take in the West Ham-Man Utd 3-5 game. A cursory eye was kept on the goalfest
whilst I extolled the virtues of Michael Owen over Raul and Steven Gerrard over
Zidane. The channel the games were broadcast on appeared to show live and
recorded football 24/7 from around the world - why oh why couldn't I wrap this
TV station up and take it home with me?

I made an arrangement to return later that night to watch El Gran Classico with
the Madrilenos. The football itself proved to be much of a non-entity with as
much fun being gained from the handcuff protest at the start. Zidane slid in
the first after a penetrating Raul run and then Cesar made a pigs ear of a long
shot from Xavi, the ball spinning high into the air, looping inexorably into
the Madrid net - only five minutes before I'd enquired after Casillas' absence
to be met with a rolled-eyes expression from the patrons. Most of the fun
though was watching the expressions and vicious hand gestures from the locals.
A cacophony of cats on the hottest of tin roofs. Desmond Morris would have had
a field day. Final Score Barca 1 Madrid 1 Global protestors 4.

It would have been rude not to revisit some tapas bars, and after some Galician
style octopus and a couple of bottles of Rioja at Casa Alberto it was time for
churros y chocolate. This bizarre Spanish culinary tradition involves dipping a
deep-fried tube of doughnut-like pastry into a cup of the thickest hot
chocolate before wolfing it down. Madrid's most famous chocolate shop only
opens from 1-30 am till 8 am and is the place to stop off after a hard nights
partying - makes a great change from the kebab van.

Sunday was designated art and culture day. First the art. The Prada is one of
the world's great museums but the last bottle of red the night before meant
it's meagre Sunday opening hours were missed. So it was onto the Reina Sofia
museum, home of Picasso's Guernica. Painted in 1937 as an anti-fascist and
anti-war statement, it depicts the Nazi bombing of the small Basque village of
Guernica under Franco's orders during the Spanish Civil War. The huge mural
must be 20 feet long and is the first piece of art I've seen with armed guards,
such is its cultural importance to the people of Spain. I'm not one to go
overboard on the art front but this extremely powerful piece had me spellbound.
In the same hall were Picasso's various sketches of the tortured figures in the
mural, which he refined time and again till he was happy with the finished work
of art.

Now the culture. Having had my fill of art I jumped on the metro up to the
Bernabau. Guide books suggested its trophy room was open only for an hour a
week but I thought at least I'd be able to see the stadium from the outside and
maybe blag my way in for a quick look. Getting there I find a banner
proclaiming "La Exposición Los Mejores Trofeos de la Historia" - I find a small
ticket window selling tickets and for a couple of quid I'm past the security
guards and in.  A huge collection of trophies spread out before me including a
crystal vase presented by LFC to Madrid at the 1981 European Cup Final. Some of
the challenge trophies Real have won are huge - one in the shape of a castle on
a wooden base was 6 feet high and would have taken 3 men to lift. Potted
histories of famous players, a Hall of fame, all came under my gaze.

They had saved the best for last though. A semi-circle of black cabinet had the
6 original European Cups won in the 1950s and 1960s, with the goals from those
finals playing on a video display. Inside this semi-circle stood their two most
recent Cups floodlit on podiums, now in the more familiar shape of the Kirkby
swilling jug. Longer highlights package played on video screens as a guard eyed
me suspiciously (well there were only 3-4 people in the museum). Even Robbie's
mate made the tape with that mishit volley of his. I also had the chance to pop
into the stadium, at about the same level you can at Barca's museum. The ground
looked superb. Very compact and rising to the heavens. I have to see a game
there one day as it looked so much better than the Nou Camp. The pitch though
was a mess - Lytham St Anne´s has less sand.

And so it was onto the Rayo-Valencia game and what a great little game it
turned out to be. On the way to the Metro from the hotel it became apparent
that everyone in Madrid goes to the cinema on Sunday. Extended families either
queued at booths to buy tickets or queued to get in cinemas with the tickets
they queued fot. We appeared to be the only people moving away from the cinema
area of Callao. Got off the Metro at Portazgo in the working class district of
Vallecanos to find the surrounds of the ground absolutely buzzing - people were
actually talking excitedly about football.

I've been very taken with Al Edge's comments recently on the lack of buzz pre
and post game at Anfield and even though I couldn't understand anything but the
odd word this was clearly football talk Spanish-style. Formations were drawn in
the air with fingers, points hammered home with gesticulations. We managed to
squeeze in a packed bar full of both sets of fans and shared a few Mahous and
snacked on sunflower seeds, me clad in my "Coraje Vallecano" scarf. 

Firecrackers were liberally let off in the streets as we dived in 15 minutes
before kick off. The Rivero is a pokey 3-sided 15000 capacity stadium with
advertising holdings at one end reminding me of Highbury when they were
rebuilding the North Bank. We'd bought tickets on the Friday for 27 euros in
the posh seats of the Tribuna Central under a bit of cover as we were wise to
the weather by now. Rayo went into the game bottom and Valencia had the chance
to open up a three point gap at the top. As a result Valencia must have had
3000 there - and they were loud - better than any away support I've seen at
Anfield this year. Drummers galore and the odd trumpeter but not the abysmal
Sheff Wed style bands we have over here. Rayo fans kept up the tempo behind
their goal which abounded with banners.

Rayo seemed to have a socialist thing going on there. Che Guevara flags,
Russian flags, pirate flags, flags with single stars were waved with passion.
The best for me though was a red and white banner simply saying "Working Class"
with a white star between the words. Also attached to the back of the terrace
was a long banner from River Plate fans (they and Rayo share the same kit -
white with a red diagonal sash). After 15 minutes with not a steward in sight
the more vociferous Valencia fans swarmed to an empty area from their
designated seats to form an even more passionate singing section. 

The game itself was very entertaining - Rayo had no defence at all and were
frequently breached but Valencia then kept tripping over themselves when it got
near the area. Their one goal midway through the first half was a blatantly
offside header by Angulo and was one of many very poor decisions by a ref who
seemed hopelessly biased towards the bigger club - in fact I was waving an
imaginary fistful of pesetas at him at the end of the first half (imaginary
euros don't convey the same passion). Rayo surprised everyone with two goals
either side of halftime from corners that Canizares should have come for, the
first an own goal by Pellegrino. The second goal after 57 minutes, a header by
Corino past the red-shirted Canizares, saw me bouncing down the aisle punching
the air and celebrating with some sangria-fuelled fans. A purple flare had come
on the pitch not long before the corner which the Valencians were complaining
about but the goal quite rightly stood and more sangria was passed around in a
goat-skin bag.

As the match progressed firecrackers landed on the pitch whenever an injured
player went down. Rayo were holding on well when they had a player sent off 20
mins from the end for a miserably awarded 2nd yellow but Valencia couldn't
shake off their own incompetence and brave Rayo held on to gain the vital 3
points and move off the bottom of the league. The Rivero reminded me of a
5-a-side pitch the stands were so close - players barely had space to take
throw ins. The digital neon advertising signs were a bit disconcerting as well
particularly when in bright pink mode - totally clashed with Valencia's orange
steward uniforms. The ads with a car moving along the length of the
digi-hoardings can't help the linesmen (well that's the excuse I'd use if I was
that poor).

And so it was back into town for a last time for a final quick trip around the
tapas bars. We were stopped a few times and asked the result and shocked
expressions greeted the news of a Vallecano win. Both Rayo and the city of
Madrid were superb and I can't wait to go back in August with LFC for Real's
centenary tournament.  But what of the Liverpool flag I hear you ask? No sight
nor sign until the closing minutes of the Rayo game when I spotted it defiantly
waving behind the Rayo goal - a little bit of Spain will always be Scouse.