The recent arrival of thousands of refugees in Europe has triggered a heartfelt response from the football world, with clubs and fans showing their solidarity by making donations, wearing shirts showing their support for the displaced, and observing minutes of silence before games.

“Football’s always been a sport that’s about solidarity,” Rayo Vallecano captain Roberto Trashorras told, echoing the prevailing mood. As a Rayo player, Trashorras is well placed to talk about the subject. Accustomed to living in the shadow of the two Madrid giants, Real and Atletico, the modest Rayo might lack silverware in their trophy cabinet, but there are few clubs that can beat them when it comes to expressing support for others and backing a good cause.

“Solidarity is our lifeblood,” said Rayo president Raul Martin Presa, the head of an institution that prides itself on being a club de barrio, a neighbourhood club, that remains inextricably linked with its roots, which in its case are in the working-class district of Vallecas. In forging and maintaining very close ties with the local community, Rayo is something of a rarity on the European professional football scene.

“I’ve never played at a club where there’s such a strong bond with the fans,” commented Trashorras, pointing to a quality that has seen Rayo stay in close contact with their supporters and lend them a helping hand in times of need. We’re not superstars and this is a small club, which means that you’re more in contact with reality here. And though you focus on your football, you still see what’s happening in the neighbourhood and how much the economic crisis has affected it.”

Spared from eviction, rainbow colours
During these difficult times the club has not been slow to offer its support to the most disadvantaged members of the local community, among them an elderly lady by the name of Carmen, who was facing the threat of eviction from her home due to debts incurred by her son.

“It’s not a question of choosing to help some people and not others," said Trashorras. "It was a very special case. This old lady had been through a lot and she lost her house overnight. When I heard about it I spoke to the coach (Paco Jemez) and the rest of the squad and we decided to step in.”

“It’s when times get tough that people and institutions step up,” added Presa and, pooling their efforts, the club, the squad and the fans came together to raise more than enough money to ensure Carmen’s story had a happy ending, with the grateful recipient returning what she did not need so it could go to others.

“That just goes to show what the people of Vallecas are like,” said Trashorras. “We also collect toys and food, sometimes at the initiative of our own fans. A lot of them are unemployed or in difficulties themselves, but that doesn’t stop them from getting organised and helping others. That’s why I always say that this club and these fans are special. I feel very proud to be the captain of this team.”

Similarly proud of the Rayo support and players, Presa said: “We’re lucky to have a fantastic squad and coaching staff. And when we sign someone, we want them to be both a good player and a good person. There’s no place here for fantastic players who don’t have the human spirit we’re looking for.”

Explaining the philosophy that lies behind Rayo’s initiatives in favour of the local community and which underpins the club’s aims, Presa added: “We want to keep on being the local team we’ve always been. And on top of that, we also want to be something more and to harness the impact that we have in the media, even as a small club, to educate people and raise social awareness.”

With that objective in mind, Rayo are this season showing their support for a number of social causes through their second and third strips, in which the club’s trademark red stripe has taken on some altogether different hues.

Presa explained: “The second kit sports the six colours of the rainbow as a symbol of our rejection of homophobia, with each of these colours also representing other causes: the fight against AIDS, helplessness and despair, disability issues, the protection of the environment and our rejection of child abuse and domestic violence. The stripe on the third kit is pink and represents our commitment to the fight against cancer, a cause in which we’re very involved.”

Part of the proceeds from the sale of these shirts will go to charities linked to these causes, but while making a gesture is all well and good, what really matters is to raise awareness, as Presa pointed out: “We feel that we have to fight for what we believe in and that this is only the start.”

Players and fans alike have welcomed the latest initiatives, as Trashorras explained: “A simple gesture like wearing a rainbow flag helps bring down barriers, and when you shake somebody’s hand you might not solve the problem, but at least you’re showing people that they’re not alone.”

As they continue to mix it with the big boys in La Liga for yet another season, Rayo also have their sights set on showing that the smallest of clubs can have the biggest of hearts.