Lightning Strikes Twice (The Rayo Double)

It started with a de-rigeur check of the fixture lists. I realised that on September 22 there was the distinct possibility of going to two matches in Madrid in one day. Being new to big city life, this was an opportunity I couldn’t really pass up on. So here’s my story of how it went down.

The Planning

So here are the four games which were on offer.

13:00 – Rayo Vallecano v Alavés
18:00 – Rayo Majadahonda v Extremadura
18:30 – Getafe v Atlético Madrid
20:45 – Real Madrid v Espanyol

I decided to go for the first two, partly for financial reasons, partly because I didn’t feel up for visiting Getafe yet and partly because going to see two teams called Rayo in one day felt like a nice theme to write about.

But my plans almost hit a bump before I’d even arrived in Madrid. Safety concerns at Rayo Vallecano’s stadium led to their game against Athletic Bilbao at the start of September being postponed and there was the assumption that all subsequent games would be too until the ground was deemed safe for spectators again. Thankfully the game was given the go-ahead but with Rayo only opening tickets sales on Friday evening, an early start on Saturday would be required.

The Day Itself

All times are approximate – my memory isn’t THAT good!

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Ticket purchased for game one

11:20: After leaving my flat (and stopping for coffee), I got on the Metro at Atocha and travelled on Line 1 to Portazgo, where you exit right next to the stadium.

Unfortunately on this occasion the main road leading straight down to where the taquillas are located was closed off so I was forced to head further down the road and cut through the courtyard of some housing developments to get there. I’d got there early as I expected a bit of a wait due to tickets only going on sale the day before, but I was the only person there and my ticket purchase was relatively painless.

12:00 Ticket purchased, I now had an hour to kill until kick off. Since it was already a very hot day, I headed indoors for a bit, crossing the street for a cold drink in Meson de Moreno, a popular bar for Rayo supporters. Feeling suitably refreshed, I crossed back over to the stadium side of the road and checked out the scarves on the merchandise stalls which line the pavement on match day.

12:30: So I headed into the ground and found my seat in lateral baja and soon discovered that I was basically sitting in the corner. However, this had its advantages. On such a sunny day, this meant I was sheltered from the sun for the majority of the game (in total contrast to my experience at the Atlético game the previous week) and could enjoy the game without worrying about burning.

In the corner

As kick-off approached the stand filled up and I noticed quite a lot of Alavés fans in my section. The away section was directly above me and given the safety concerns in the build up, the way they were bouncing did make me feel a wee bit nervous. They were in great voice before the game and would really contribute to a cracking atmosphere.

13:00: Kick off! Both teams started at a frantic pace but it was Alavés who struck first, Ximo Navarro flicking home the opener from a free kick after eight minutes. Rayo pushed hard for the equaliser and got their reward when Raul de Tomas poked home from close range after half an hour. Cue The Final Countdown.

But that was about as good as things got for Rayo. The 34th minute provided the two turning points of the game. First, a goal of outstanding quality from Ibai Gomez,  who cut inside on his left foot and curled a beauty of a shot into the top corner, just beyond the despairing dive of Rayo’keeper García. But as he ran over to celebrate in front of me (and presumably the away fans above too) there was drama developing on the sideline. The referee had called for a VAR review, the first one I’ve ever witnessed in a game I was at.

Ibai Gomez celebrates while the VAR drama unfolds in the background.

“Surely he couldn’t be about to rule out such an amazing goal?” was the thought running through my head as confusion reigned throughout the ground. No, he wasn’t, but as it turned out we were about to get the game’s second decisive moment.

The reason for the VAR review was that the referee was taking a second look at an off the ball incident involving Rayo defender Abdoulaye Ba and with the benefit of the video, he decided that it was worthy of a red card. So a goal down and a man down, Rayo were facing an uphill struggle.

13:50: So half time arrived and I retreated to the back of the stand for water break. Unfortunately with the sun moving, my shaded space was gradually decreasing. So the second half would get gradually more uncomfortable. But not as uncomfortable as it would get for Rayo…

14:05: Rayo actually started the second half with some energy but conceding the third goal totally destroyed their momentum and they were never able to find their rhythm again and the rest of the game was plain sailing for Alavés. Even though they added a further two goals (the fifth coming with virtually the final kick) the home fans were not discouraged and continued to offer strong vocal encouragement. The away fans even joined in, starting several choruses of ‘Presa vete ya’ in amongst their usual repertoire in reference to the despised owner of Rayo, whose face (adorned with Mickey Mouse ears) can be seen on stickers everywhere around the ground.

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Presa Go Now

14:55: Before this particular afternoon, I had been to see Rayo play in Vallecas three times, three games which had brought three wins and an aggregate score of 5-0 in their favour. This game well and truly broke my streak as their lucky mascot, but despite that it was an extremely enjoyable afternoon out. Both teams played some lovely football and Alavés were seriously impressive, looking like a team that could bother the European places this year. So now for a trip back home, and a quick descanso to prepare for game number two!

Passionate support (and some silent) at Rayo v Alavés

16:15: Rested and recharged (in the case of my phone, quite literally) I now headed for the Metro at Atocha to begin my journey to the Wanda for Rayo Majadahonda v Extremadura. I’m not a big fan of this Metro journey, involving as it does a number of changes and waits between lines and then when you finally get to Line 7, which goes directly to the Estadio Metropolitano stop, it’s a slow line with lots of stops and worst of all, a mobile signal blackspot.

Highly inconvenient when I was trying to follow updates from back home of Rodney McAree’s first game in charge of Coleraine.

17:25: Metro journey safely negotiated, I exited the Estadio Metropolitano station, recovered phone signal long enough to check the Coleraine score (still 0-0) and headed up the steps towards the stadium when I spotted this and suddenly experienced a sinking feeling.

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The ticket queue for Rayo Majadahonda v Extremadura

17:50: The Coleraine game has finished (0-0 by the way) but I was still no closer to being able to buy my ticket. Kick off is ten minutes away, yet the queue seemed even longer than when I joined it almost half an hour before. By now I had realised that it wasn’t just one queue, but several and I was way back in the longest one. I was going to need a miracle if I was to see the start of the match.

(A side note – there were no stalls selling any kind of merchandise anywhere to be seen. So no chance to add a Rayo Majadahonda scarf to my collection.)

18:00: The match had started and there I was still standing outside. I had soon realised that most of the people around me were Extremadura fans and I couldn’t help but think that I had never realised they had so many supporters. My only experience of them had been seeing them play against Recre in Huelva a couple of times and there were never many travelling fans. Obviously a big day out at the Wanda is a more attractive proposition than a trip to the Nuevo Colombino.

After a while the queue began to move more swiftly and I could see what the problem was. There were only three taquillas open! Someone had seriously underestimated the interest there would be in this game. Admittedly, I had seriously underestimated the interest there would be in this game, but then I’m not in charge of planning things like this for a football club in the second tier of Spanish football.

Suddenly there were loud cheers from the stadium. There’d been a goal! But for who? It was a race to see who could find out first by checking their phone. Someone shouted ‘Gol de Extremadura!’ and the majority of the people around me erupted into cheers.

18:30: So the line was finally moving quickly, but alas this also led to people trying to cut in. After five years living in Spain, poor queuing etiquette still annoys me, even though it’s everywhere. And just as I got to near the front, there was another cheer from the ground. Everyone stops to check their phones. ‘Otro gol de Extremadura!’

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Getting there!

18:35: A quick dash from the ticket office to the relevant gate later and I was finally able to take my seat in the stadium for what remained of the first half. Not much happened, leaving me with the dreaded feeling that I would in effect see my first 0-0 of the season.

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Just happy to see some action

19:05: I needn’t have worried really, as the second half  brought plenty of action and most importantly, three goals. But first, a second red card of the day for a defender from a team called Rayo. Oscar’s clumsy lunge earned him a second yellow card and an early bath, leaving his team mates with an almost impossible task.

And Extremadura soon made their extra man count. Enric Gallego, who earlier on had scored the first, added a second, dancing around the goalkeeper before neatly placing the ball between the legs of the covering defender.

Rayo were given the chance to reduce arrears from the penalty spot on 69 minutes, an opportunity Isaac Carcelén was in no mood to pass up on, emphatically slamming his penalty into the top corner. But despite this, there was never really any suggestion that a comeback would be on the cards.

As the game entered injury time, Gallego put the cherry on top of Extremadura’s victory, completing his hat-trick with a lovely chip over the advancing goalkeeper. What a moment for him, the first visiting player to score a hat-trick at the Wanda Metropolitano, and what a moment for the club – Extremadura’s first ever victory in the Segunda Division, coming in such a fine stadium, with so many of their fans there to see it. It was hard not to be happy for them.

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Extremadura fans salute their team’s first ever Segunda victory.

And equally, it was hard not to feel sorry for Rayo. Getting promoted was an amazing achievement for a club of their size, but to then go into the season knowing that you can’t play at your own ground must be a really difficult situation. The Wanda is an amazing ground, but it obviously doesn’t help if away fans travel in such huge numbers and end up outnumbering the home fans.

Conclusions

One day. Two games. 11 (eleven) goals (although I only saw nine of them). Two red cards. €65 spent on tickets – €40 for Rayo Vallecano, €25 for Rayo Majadahonda.

Was it worth doing? Yeah, I really enjoyed both games. Vallecas is always worth a visit and with a large travelling support from Alavés, the atmosphere was extra special. It was also interesting seeing the Wanda in a different light, a week after I’d been there to see Atlético.

Would I do it again? Erm… Let’s see. I’m sure there will be plenty of other opportunities for double-headers like this presenting themselves over the course of the season.

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Sunset leaving the Wanda. Featuring the Cuatro Torres in the background.

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