Garreth Nunn exclusive interview with a member of the Rayo Vallecano Ultras group Bukaneros
Go up the metro steps, cross the street from the stadium and take a few side streets and there they are. They may be standing about 50 metres from a street called Fofo the clown but there is nobody laughing here. It is two hours before kick-off but there are already 50 or so Bukaneros standing outside their headquarters preparing for the match. Inside another 20 or so as T-shirts for today’s protest are sold whilst others get the flags ready for the game.
If the Spanish media are to be believed, and too often they are not, Spain’s Ultras are all the same. The image painted by some journalists is one of unemployed, uneducated, overweight and violent white men who just want to cause destruction. On the street outside the Bukaneros HQ, that theory is blown out of the water. The growing group is a mix of ages and races and Victor, who has agreed to be interviewed, also pours cold water on that theory.
Victor, a Bukanero and proud, is a university-educated man who works for a company that is based on one of Madrid’s busiest streets. He is non-violent and wants racism kicked out of football and Spain. Victor has agreed to speak to Football Espana to set the record straight on a few things and there are a few things that do need answering. First of all, what does it mean when you call yourself a Bukanero.
“A Bukanero is a member of the Rayo Vallecano Ultras and to be a member you simply need to be a Rayo fan, non-racist and not have a xenophobic attitude,” says Victor. In Spain, the Ultras are proud of their title and happy to be classed as such but for many, there isn’t much of a difference between an Ultra and a hooligan.
Victor argues there is a big difference. “They have different ways to see football,” he counters. “In Europe, in general, the Ultra groups are there to support and encourage their team. Hooligans are more interested in violence and have always caused problems across Europe. In Spain, there are Ultras who are both.’
So if the Bukaneros are just a supporters group, why are they in the news so much? Two weeks ago, police raided the Ultras’ HQ and confiscated more than 400 flares. The police put the flares on display for a photo op but the fact that they were taken has raised some questions.
Firstly: Why? It is not illegal to have flares in Spain and so why the authorities took them and then put them on display like a huge drug bust is slightly baffling. The other questions is, if flares are forbidden why do the Ultras have them and also was there really a need to have 400 of them?
“We always used flares inside the ground. Since a few years ago they have been forbidden and you can be fined €6000,” Victor replied. “We have always said that having them in the ground is a way of encouraging the team but since we are not allowed to use them inside, we use them outside.
“In the case of the confiscated flares, we had them for a photo and video we had planned to do and it was to be done behind closed doors inside the ground and was approved by the club. We wanted to do it three months ago.”
Victor adds that after the death of the Deportivo La Coruna supporter in November last year, the club and the Ultras felt it was best to wait. Victor and the Bukaneros are very keen to point out that no one was arrested or charged over the confiscation, which again raises the question, why were they taken then?
It is not the first nor the last time the Bukaneros and the police have had issues with each other. The raids were carried out by 100 or so police, according to the Ultras. At the time there were only 100 of them in the HQ. In total they have over 600 members with another 200 who join the group occasionally. Other clubs have far larger numbers.
So why is it that they seem to make the news more than other Ultras groups and get more police attention? Could it be down to politics? Rayo Vallecano is in a working-class neighbourhood and the club’s supporters generally hold left-wing political views. Could it be down to the fact that Spain’s right-wing political party, Partido Popular, are the party in power in Madrid? Victor certainly thinks so.
“There are various reasons [for the constant police presence and raids] and one is the fact that the police are being used as an instrument by the government and in particular Cristina Cifuentes [A Madrid politician who has been very vocal against the group],” Victor alleges. “We have been accused constantly in the Press but we have never been charged with anything.”
Victor claims that the group have problems with the police almost daily and adds: “We are tired [of the police] and we have made an complaint about various issues, including the recording of the Ultras without their permission, for taking the flares and also for threats?’ What does he mean by ‘threats’? “For example, they say if you go to the ground we will fine you, if you go to this place we will find you, etc.”
A strong accusation to be made and one can only ask if this is the case for other Ultras. Victor says that the Bukaneros have no contact or relation with the Ultras from Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid. But the police have claimed for a while that all the groups are linked. That brings up another tricky issue.
After the events of Madrid Rio, where one person lost their life, the police and government claimed that Bukaneros were involved. All the Press were quick to publish the allegation but five months later the police and the government have finally admitted that the group had no involvement on that tragic day.
It angers the Bukaneros that the club never defended them and also that the media that accused them with no evidence, have not been so quick to publish articles that confirm their non-involvement. And even though they have been proven innocent, they still have strict controls at the club’s gates.
Rayo’s Ultras have gotten a lot of fame over the past few seasons for their protests inside the ground. They can be football related, against late kick-offs or Friday and Monday football, or political such as the last protest they had planned.
As International Woman’s Day approached, the Bukaneros planned a protest against domestic violence, a serious issue still in Spain. As they were making their way into the ground, their banners were taken. Why?
“They act following the instructions from above,” Victor claims. “They let some pass with a poster and others no. Why? The criteria doesn’t have any sense. The law is very ambiguous.”
Victor is also keen to add that it is not just political posters that have been targeted. After the death of ex-goalkeeper Wilfred Agbonavbare, messages of RIP and anti-racism were at first prevented from entering the ground. In the end common sense prevailed but it shows the type of scrutiny the club’s fans are under.
It has gotten to the point where the Bukanero’s have invited selected media outlets and politicians to attend games and see and record the Ultras as they enter the ground. They feel it is way to show the world that they are been persecuted.
The question of whether or not a football ground is the place to make such protests and statements has to be asked. The Bukaneros believe it is. “Football is another place where one can go to express their opinions,” Victor said. “Whether it be using a banner or a song. But, you must respect people’s human rights and there are certain things you cannot use or do in the ground.” Once again another issue has to be tackled. If the Ultras believe in respecting human rights, surely a person has the right to keep a football shirt.
A few seasons ago, the Bukaneros made the headlines when Cristiano Ronaldo hit a girl with the ball and as a way of apologising he gave the girl his shirt at half-time. Images of the Ultras forcing the girl to give the shirt back made international headlines and condemnation and rightly so. But it would seem that not all is as it seemed to be.
“It wasn’t that way at all and we have answered this question before,” Victor says when the incident is raised. “It wasn’t just anybody who made her give the shirt back. It was her father who did it because of what she did and she has admitted to doing it. She pretended that the ball had hit her to get the shirt.
“We have no problem whether it be a Real Madrid or Barcelona giving their shirt, the issue that day was the shirt was given for something that didn’t happen.” And so with that cleared up there is another topic, a more important one but it got a lot less coverage and it needs an answer.
Again, this happened a few years ago when a General Strike was called in Spain. The Bukaneros made their way to the Rayo training ground to ask them to strike too. Whilst the players did strike and claimed they did so of their own accord, the Press claimed they did so out of pressure. Does this not go against their freedom of beliefs and what would have happened if the players had said no?
“There was pressure,” Victor admits. “I was one who went to that meeting and we told them that we felt that Rayo Vallecano was a club that needed to strike, not just the players but also everyone at the club. Some of the players said that decision was theirs, and theirs alone, to make. And we agreed with that.
“Rayo is a team that needs its fans and had there not been a player’s strike, there would have been a fans’ strike against them,” Victor confirmed. “But the bottom line is that it was their right to strike or not and we would have respected that.” In the end the players did strike and many players have admitted to sharing the same views of the supporters, but Victor points out that if they didn’t, there wouldn’t be an issue.
After the flares were taken and there was a crackdown on Ultras, one of Spain’s most vocal sets of supporters were not going to sit on their hands. Lately anyone watching a home game at Vallecas will have noticed numerous orange shirts around the ground. “It’s a protest against everything we are going through with the banners, the raids,” Victor said. “We are wearing orange because we feel like Guantanamo prisoners.”
Yet, surely, if they are so disillusioned the easiest thing instead of protesting would be to try and sit down with those against you and try and find a solution. Victor says that the Ultras have tried to meet Javier Tebas various times. They have sent certified letters, emails and tried to contact him by phone.
Whilst they had no luck there, they did have a few meetings with the Interior Ministry to talk about the issues but that was before November and since then things have gone cold – and the League and authorities have clamped down on Ultras across Spain.
So what would the Ultras say to Tebas and the police if they had the chance to sit down with them? “That they leave us alone. They try and find a competitive League and justice and that the police crack down on those that needs to be arrested,” Victor replied. “If one day something happens here that is illegal, then there will be no problems, we won’t defend that but they need to stop playing with ambiguous laws and using them for what they want.”
One has to wonder why now have the Ultras finally decided to talk to the Press. In recent weeks they have done interviews with numerous outlets whereas before they ignored the requests. “We have decided to stand up and present our case,” Victor notes. “But they just want quick stories and what we have learnt it that no matter what the truth is, they will say what they want. Why didn’t they ask us about the flares? No, they weren’t interested.
“Look at the case with Jimmy [the Deportivo fan who died in November]. They didn’t come to us, they just wrote and said what they wanted,” he lamented. “After five months of protesting our innocence and finally having it confirmed, no media outlet or almost no media outlet have published it.
“It has come to the situation where it doesn’t matter what you do, you are going to lose,” Victor continued. “They don’t publish our campaigns where we ask for toys for kids or food for the poor. No, that is not interesting for them. All they want to talk about is now bad we are.”
As the interview draws to a close there is one more question that needs to be answered. Who cut the wires in that infamous incident before the Real Madrid game a few years ago? Victor laughs, saying he would like to know that too. He leaves to do another interview and then a tribute to Wilfred. It has been a busy afternoon and it looks set to be one of many.
The Bukaneros are not going to disappear into the night and neither will their problems. It hurts them that they face more persecution than other groups – other groups that have blood on their hands. They are happy that the LFP are cracking down on racial and abusive chanting but feel they are going too far.
The most logical thing would be for everyone to sit down but that will never happen. And anybody who thinks that this will soon blow over is mistaken. One gets the impression that the fight has just begun. Outside the Bukaneros’ HQ, one poster grabs the eye. ‘Resist,’ it reads, and many around here will do so.
Garreth Nunn, for Football Espana