When it comes to immersing yourself in the rich tapestry of Madrid’s football culture the clubs inevitably at the forefront are Atletico and Real. The two big guns make up the key ingredients of Spain’s unique football cuisine.

If Real Madrid represents the flavor of La Liga there are others however who also contribute to the rich gastronomy.

Football in Madrid is more than a shallow traditional pan cooked on an open fire.

As a club Rayo Vallecano may not have ancient roots, but in its modern form, formation can be traced back to the early 20th century.

They date themselves to 1924 – which is why you see ‘Desde 1924’ all around Vallecas – the southerly working-class district of Vallecas.

This is a club with an identity far removed from the global status of Real Madrid. And, given the year 2024 is the centenary year the club and its fans are asking themselves big questions about the next 100 years.

Vallecas could easily be a barrio in Buenos Aires such is the local feel.

If you have been to the likes of Huracan or Argentinos Juniors the similarities in look and feel with Rayo are stark.

Away fans at Rayo are located high up – in the Tribuna Alta lateral.

Such great heights are not reached by the players. They enter the stadium and humble dressing rooms through a door that could easily be mistaken for an entry point to a bingo hall.

The 14,000 capacity meanwhile sees supporters cramped into only three sides of what is one of the smallest stadia in the top tier of Spanish football. The north end is currently not accessible to fans. Room for the building of a stand is almost impossible given the residential tower blocks that stand behind one of the penalty areas.

These apartment blocks gaze into a stadium which is humble but has been under pressure for some time from both the Spanish football authorities and the local municipal council.

The streets that surround the Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas are a mix of 24 hr shops, bars, bingo halls and restaurants. A match evening at Rayo puts significant pressure on local residents both young and old both from a noise and transport perspective.

On one corner of the stadium there is also a boxing gym called “El Rayo”. Ironic given the most loyal of fans are currently involved in a scrap with the President.

On the face of it the choice for Rayo is simple or at least that is what the fans are being told.

The current (unpopular) President of the club wants to move them out from the 14,700 stadium for bigger and better things – the main reason being the rewards that are available in Spanish football. ‘The club needs a stadium adapted to the current realities’ states the president.

The fans however refuse to even contemplate seeing the team play football anywhere else but right in the heart of Vallecas.

Protest chants can be heard at every game and some sections of the support have doubled down refusing to vacate some areas of the stadium on non match-day instead insisting on access for the organisation of community events like charity runs.

In truth the matter is more than a tradition vs modern football disagreement. Instead it is part of a much wider political crisis in Spain that is ever deepening given the country’s schism between left and right politics.

The boxing gym then that sits here is somewhat appropriate for a club which regularly finds itself on the canvas floor in La Liga. Rayo, unfortunately, are still one of Spanish football’s yo yo clubs – forever spinning between La Liga and the Segunda Division.

The new stadium is seen as some sort of escape from this culture – more fan income equates to more revenue and better players on the field at least the eyes of the club rulers.

The last decade has seen the same yo yo pattern although the club have managed to avoid the drop into the third tier where they last were in 2008.

Aside from the bingo halls, the shops and the far from posh eatery’s, the environs of Rayo Vallecano’s stadium are lined with murals.

These pay tribute to the generations of fans who come to watch football here from the most vociferous of fan groups; a former Nigerian goalkeeper as well as the famous ‘lightning’ club symbol.

Such is the intimacy of the Rayo Vallecano Stadium an electric discharge takes place here as fans and players create a special atmosphere.

An atmosphere that is far removed from the day tripper feel of Real Madrid.

The atmosphere originates from the 13,000 fans who regularly head out to the stadium on the metro trains that terminate at Portazgo and Buenos Aires stations.

Seldom does the atmosphere reach the sky at the Estadio de Vallecas but the feel is upward propagating.

Largely the feel is initiated from fans who have a strong sense of local pride and dedication to the surrounding community rather than any desire to reach for the clouds.