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Thursday, February 26, 2015 (read 1299 times)

Spain Mourns the Passing of Wilfred

by David

Recently a very special soccer player passed away in Madrid. This soccer player never made it to the Champions or a league championship, but he did make an impact on Spanish soccer in a way that few others have done. Wilfred Agbonavbare, Wilfred or just plain old Willy to his legion of fans from Rayo Vallecano was loved by all which is no small feat considering the team he played for and the neighborhood he represented. Willy was a Nigerian football player, a goalie, who overcame racism and poverty to become one the most loved players among the fans of this salty team. His good nature, humility and killer player instincts made him one of the most feared, yet adored players in the Spanish league when he played in the 90's.

Rayo Vallecano is a small team (modest would be too big of a word) from the working-class Vallecas neighborhood in southeastern part of Madrid. After the Civil War, this neighborhood became a magnet for poor people from rural Spain looking for greater opportunities in the capital and ultimately became an area of leftiest resistance to Franco and his dictatorship. When Rayo Vallecano signed Wilfred, coach José Antonio Camacho directed a team that consisted of some players working second jobs to make ends meet. Unfortunately, like many other places across the soccer world, Spain was not free from racist fans and racist chants were all too common then. But Wilfred felt this would not be the case at Rayo the moment Camacho told him that being a starter depended on him "sweating and nothing more" to earn a starting role on the team. He did just that and for five seasons he was the foundation of his team's defense.

Wilfred played like an octopus, stopping everything that came his way and made legendary soccer players like Manolo Sánchez and Iván Zamorano desperate to try to get anything past him. Commenting on a game between Atletico Madrid and Rayo Vallecano (which Atletico won 1-0), Manolo Sanchez said: "trying to shoot the ball by him was suicide. The best we could hope for was getting the ball between his legs". In another game versus perennial powerhouse and cross town rival, Real Madrid, Wilfred played one of his greatest games. Even though the game ended in a tie, for Rayo Vallecano it must have felt like a win. In this game Wilfred stopped just about everything that came his way including a Madrid penalty shot. His ability to get under the skin of rival Real Madrid and its fans due to his great play caused the fans to react with racist chants (that aren't worth repeating here) heard all around the Bernabeu stadium. This shameful display would have caused any normal person to have a reaction but Wilfred centered on his game and finished in excellent form. Afterwards, when asked about what happened on the field, he responded by saying "Today I had a great game and I'm a black goalie. I understand how that can bother them (the fans)".

Wilfred found this out firsthand how life doesn't always work out the way we may plan. After changing teams and other circumstances, he wouldn't be picked up by any team after 1997 and his career came to an abrupt end. With most of the money he eared as a soccer player he spent most of what he had to pay for the best treatment possible for his wife and her struggle to fight breast cancer—which she would end up losing. With little money and few opportunities he became a package sorter for a transport company where he would work until his illness didn't let him anymore. Wilfred passed away on January 27, 2015 due to cancer much to the dismay of people from all walks of life and regardless of team allegiance. Everyone in Spain knows that a great person is no longer among us.

Keywords: rayo vallecano,spanish soccer players,spanish soccer,atletico madrid vs rayo vallecano,wilfred agbonavbare

Posted In: Culture


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