On Sunday 18th April, news leaked about a potential breakaway ‘Super League’ led by some of the wealthiest clubs in England, Spain and Italy. Their desire to create a closed shop to guarantee their financial superiority went down like a lead balloon across most of the footballing world, forcing the majority of the clubs who had proudly announced themselves as founding members a few days earlier into hastily-written apologies to their fans for entering into the competition without consulting them.
It’s ironic that as this story broke, I was watching Independiente de Vallecas, one of a number of fan-owned clubs who stand against the continuing commercialisation of football. And it’s not hard to see why they feel that way.
Anyone who has fallen out of love with the modern game could do worse than heading down to La Unión and experiencing Fútbol Popular for themselves!
The Fútbol Popular Movement in Spain
What the Spanish call “Fútbol popular” was inspired by the establishment of fan-owned clubs in England, notably AFC Wimbledon after the owners moved Wimbledon FC to Milton Keynes in 2004 and FC United of Manchester, formed by fans opposed to the Glazer family takeover at Old Trafford in 2005.
The first Spanish example came in 2007, with disillusioned Atlético Madrid fans setting up Atlético Club de Socios.
They blame the controversial 1990 act which forced clubs to become a Sociedad Anónima Deportiva (S.A.D.) – essentially a public limited company – to play in La Liga or the Segunda, which they say turned fans from members or equal partners in their clubs into mere clients.
With clubs often falling into the wrong hands and enduring financial troubles, many vanished and were forced to start again at the bottom. But in cases where the hated owners who had driven driven the old club to extinction retained ownership of the old name, crest and stadium, fans wanting to ensure they had a say in the running of their club again had to start with a completely clean slate. Hence the occasionally confusing nature of the lower leagues here with small cities hosting multiple teams bearing similar names.
If you want to know more and follow the growth of fútbol popular in Spain, then the El Fútbol Popular Twitter account is a great place to start.
Independiente de Vallecas started as a conversation between friends in the summer of 2018, with the club eventually being set up in February of the following year.
Their idea was to create a team which paid tribute to the barrio of Vallecas and its working class identity while also standing against fascism, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, toxic masculinity and other social problems.
The choice of the name Independiente was very appropriate – reflecting both the unique character of Vallecas and the club distancing itself from the cold, profit-driven commercialism of modern football, with the club colours of burdeos being chosen as a midway point between the red and black on the historic crest of Vallecas and also as a nod to Italian side Torino, who play in a similar shade.
Visiting La Union
So if you like the sound of all that, then maybe you’d like to make it along to La Unión for a game.
As you can see from the map below, the ground is located on the fringes of the Villa de Vallecas district of the city, not far away from the Ciudad Deportiva of Rayo Vallecano and the Campo Virgen de la Torre where numerous other local sides (including Vallecas CF) play.
In terms of getting there, Madrid’s commuter train Cercanias service is your best bet – the Santa Eugenia stop is a very short walk from the ground and you can catch the C7 (Alcalá de Henares) or C2 (Guadlajara) lines from Chamartín, Nuevos Ministerios, Recoletos and Atocha.
In terms of the nearest Metro stations, there are two options on Line 1, Sierra de Guadalupe (which is connected to Vallecas Cercanias station – the stop immediately preceding Santa Eugenia) or Villa de Vallecas. The latter will involve a longer walk, through the narrow, twisty streets that characterise the neighbourhood, but if you want a traditional Spanish breakfast in an attractive open square pre-game, then this is the one you should head to.
La Unión is, like many grounds in Madrid, part of a multi-sports complex. Its most recognisable feature is the building at the Santa Eugenia end of the ground which houses the La Unión Padel Club (Padel, for the uninitiated, is a type of tennis which is extremely popular in Spain). It also acts as home ground to UDM Elida Olimpia and Madrid’s premier English-speaking team FC Británico.
What’s an Independiente matchday like?
In April, I was lucky enough to go on a day where there was a double-header, with the men’s and women’s teams playing one after the other. This meant the crowd for the men was swelled by the women’s team before they left to begin their warm-up and several of the men’s team stayed behind to return the favour afterwards.
Before kick off in every game the players go over to the fans and do a team huddle and chant where they pledge to defend the team, the barrio and the whole concept of Fútbol Popular over the forthcoming 90 minutes.
Just be aware that if you do stand with the main group of home fans, you are likely to end up breathing in the pungent aroma of the smoke bombs that are let off prior to kick off.
They look great and make for some amazing photos, but I could still smell them on my clothes later on in the day.
The atmosphere during the first game was brilliant, chanting and singing throughout, flags waving and drums beating. Despite the noise coming from the sidelines, Independiente struggled to break down their opponents, Atlético de Vallecas B, who were marooned at the foot of the table.
But their pressure finally came good during the second half, as they scored four unanswered goals, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Then it was the women’s turn. The post-match celebrations had barely died down when they took the the pitch to kick off against CD Campamento.
A few people left after the first game but maybe about half of the crowd stayed behind. The atmosphere was slightly more subdued but that could be put down to the weather, which was unnaturally warm for April, even in Madrid, tiring people out or the fact that many of the crowd went for lunch after the first game!
The on-site bar at La Unión is excellent and it got plenty of business that afternoon. I alone got a pre-match coffee, a half-time bocata and drink during the first match and then another drink to cool down during the second.
It definitely helps that it has a terrace from which you can watch the action, albeit with a slightly limited view of what’s going on at the far end!
The second game was even more one-sided than the first was. It was 3-0 at the break, eventually finishing up 5-0 and although the overall pace of the game was quite slow (again the heat may have had an impact), the quality of some of the goals stood out.
As the men had done, the women went over to the fans to celebrate at the end and as they walked along the front of the terracing, fist-bumping or shaking hands, a number of the players thanked individual supporters for coming. You won’t get that at the Bernabéu or the Wanda!
So as I headed back to the Cercanias, I could reflect on an afternoon where I saw nine goals and experienced a brilliant atmosphere over two games for an entrance cost of… zero! One of my best days out of the season and aside from refreshments and a scarf purchase (more on that below) I hadn’t spent a cent!
Showing your colours
One of the best ways to spread the word and support the growth of the club is through buying some of their excellent merchandise.
I picked up this brilliant scarf for my collection which features the famous “No Pasarán” slogan made famous by Dolores Ibárruri during the siege of Madrid in the Spanish Civil War, along with the club crest and an anchor, which represents the Batalla Naval, a popular festival in the barrio. On the reverse, it features the club crest again and the slogan Igualidad Social Fútbol Popular.
From the start of the 2021/22 season, La Burdeos will be playing in two new kits which, in keeping with the club’s ethos, have been chosen from designs submitted by supporters.
Fans of kits being simple and sticking to tradition styles and colours will be pleased to hear that one of the club’s statutes protects the kit from any kind of massive redesign and presumably from lurid neon colours as well, which is something I can definitely get behind!
Both shirts, which will be produced again by local brand uno nueve ocho look excellent and will be available once the new season starts. I’m probably going to get at least one of them, with the white away shirt currently my favourite. I was a big fan of last year’s away shirt too, but unfortunately waited too long and my size was unavailable when I went to make my purchase. I’m not going to miss out this time!
Independiente’s men’s team finished fourth last season, meaning their aspirations of promotion from the Tercera Aficionados (four promotions away from the Tercera RFEF) would have to wait for another year at least. The women, in their first season of competition, found things a bit tougher, finishing 13th out of 18 in their group of Primera Regional Femenino.
The club has established a strong reputation for itself in the Madrid lower league circles in just two seasons and I’m sure they’ll continue to grow and attract more supporters. I know that I’ll certainly be pencilling in a couple of visits once the new season gets underway.
Fans being locked out of La Liga and Segunda grounds for the majority of the past 16 months has undoubtedly increased the disconnect between some supporters and their teams and if you’re someone who is unsure of whether to renew that expensive season ticket heading into a new season, I’d definitely recommend looking a bit further down the pyramid. Fútbol Modesto can show you that the game we all fell in love with is still out there!