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The Rayo aficionado - with Mark Rickling (19th September, 2017)

Follow Mark Rickling on Twitter: @mrickling

A bit about yourself and your background

I'm an American living in the nation's capital, Washington DC. In addition to supporting Rayo, I'm a season ticket holder for the local MLS team, D.C. United. ¡Vamos United!

How long have you been a fan of Rayo and what made you support them in the first place?

Good question. I first started supporting Rayo in the 2011-12 season. As fan of soccer in a country where this sport is an also-ran in relation to other, more popular, team sports like American football and baseball, you're constantly told by the soccer media that you need to pick a foreign side to support. There are innumerable articles and even books devoted to this very subject -- what non-U.S. team is for you the American fan.

Invariably the suggestion turns out to be some Premier League side, and as a result the streets of DC are littered every Saturday and Sunday morning with people walking to their local soccer bar sporting an Arsenal jersey or the like, even though they couldn't point to north London if given a map of London.

As a horrible snob (just kidding!) I knew this wasn't for me. I'm enamored of all things Spanish, especially La Liga soccer, so I knew my "other" team would be a Spanish one. Not wanting to be mistaken for a glory-hunter, Madrid and Barcelona were out. I love Madrid and while Atleti could certainly play some compelling football, Rayo -- which I'd known about ever since the American keeper Kasey Keller played there back in the late 90s early 00s -- seemed the far better side for me. Their fans are what made the difference, passionate supporting their team yet standing for something far, far more than just success on the field. As the Ska-P song says, ¡Identifícate! ¿Quién eres tú?

Describe your first visit ever to Vallecas and the stadium? How would you describe the fans in the stadium, and how intimidating is the stadium for opposition fans and players?

The first and only game I've seen at Estadio de Vallecas was in the spring of 2014, a 3 - 1 victory against Almería. It was an incredible experience. Prior to the game, I had bribed the Guardian sports journalist Sid Lowe - a well-known collector of football mugs from around the world -- into meeting us in front of the stadium with a D.C. United mug. Sid was kind enough to sign my copy of his excellent history of the Madrid-Barcelona rivalry. As for the game itself, it was fantastic, great attacking soccer, Falqué and Rochina owned the wings, Alberto Bueno scored the first and Larrivey had two more and the Bukaneros were in full voice. A perfect first game in Vallecas.

To an outsider - how would you describe Rayo's playing style, what it means to be a fan of the club, and what it means to be a player of the club?

Certainly as long as I've known Rayo their style has tended towards the possession-oriented, a high press and attractive, attacking soccer. Sometime suicidally and absurdly so in the Jémez era. For fans I'd say first and foremost an identification with the neighborhood of Vallecas. But beyond this a commitment to left-wing ideals, solidarity with the working class movement and an orientation to anti-racism and gender and LBGT equality. As for players, certainly there's an expectation among fans that players represent the barrio of Vallecas well and stand for something more than just being a pesetero interested in a paycheck.

How would you describe the last few seasons for Rayo fans?

The last few season have been tough for Rayo fans. Sadly less so for what has happened on the field, including relegation and another near relegation last season, but more so off the field with the horrible mismanagement of team by Raúl Martín Presa. Squandering club assets like the Rayo OKC debacle, alienating and losing long-time employees of the cantera, and worst of all attacking your own fans in the stadium is something no supporter wants to see.

List some things you appreciate and some things you can’t stand about the club management.

In terms of accentuating the positive, the one thing I appreciate is finally landing on a great manager Míchel. He helped save us from another relegation last season and I think will be a great manager for the club moving forward. Another positive would this season's second away kit: red shirt, white sash and the old-school ADRV logo. Looks sharp! I definitely need to get one of these next time I go to Vallecas.

What are your thoughts on the Bukaneros? How would you describe them and their political affiliations?

They seem great to me. From a distance they also seem to get pretty consistently and unfairly maligned by the press.

Now, for some fun:
Any favorite Rayo song/chant?

La Vida Pirata

Do you belong to a particular penya? If so, which one?

Nope.

How important is it for you that Rayo wins versus Rayo plays well?

Both are important, but if forced to choose I'd pick winning over playing well.

Best signing Rayo has made? Worst signing Rayo has made?

Although I only caught the tail end of his career at Rayo, I'd say the best was probably Michu. Beyond el caso de Zozulya, the worst in my eyes was Nery Castillo. Not a fan, glad he didn't feature much for the team when he was on the squad.

Favorite player? Favorite manager?

Love Trashorras. Obviously I loved the Paco era and hope that Míchel can at least achieve that level of success, if not surpass it. Will be hard however with the current owner.

What is your favorite thing about Rayo, and why?

Too many things to pick just one. Playing Europe's The Final Countdown in the stadium after we score a goal cannot be overlooked!

Which websites/newspapers/people do you get your Rayo information from?

The usual suspects, Marca, Diario AS, Unión Rayo, Rayo Herald, Rayo Total, etc. In English the Twitter accounts of Paul Reidy and Robbie Dunne.

Your thoughts on the season ahead?

Started off promising but now worried about our ability to score goals. But the season is a long one and I hope the squad pulls together sooner rather than later.

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