GIBRALTAR is preparing to play against Poland this Sunday in its first ever competitive football match: but the road to Euro 2016 qualification will be far from plain sailing.
Football fans on the Rock have had a turbulent but exciting year. In May, UEFA’s president Michel Platini paid a visit to the peninsula to officially endorse Gibraltar as UEFA’s newest member.
Since entering international football, they have seen their first goal in Roy Chipolina’s strike during the eventual 4-1 defeat against the Faroe Islands; and their first victory thanks to Kyle Casciaro’s goal against Malta earlier this summer.
It has been a long journey to get to where Gibraltar’s football is today. Not even the proudest Gibraltareño could deny that Spain has somewhat outshone its small neighbour in terms of recent success in football, but according to Gibraltar, there’s nothing political in their desire to join international football.
Simply put, they just want to play football, and they have been trying to do so since a campaign to go international was launched in 1999.
To a backdrop of political disputes between the British and Spanish governments, border queues and tobacco smuggling, Gibraltar’s FA have worked tirelessly for the right to play alongside the greats on the international stage.
Despite resistance from Spain, Gibraltar was formally accepted into the fold in May 2013.
The news has not been met with universal acclaim. Perhaps rather predictably, Javier Tebas, president of the Spanish football league, suggested that UEFA may enjoy watching football in Gibraltar more when it is returned to Spain.
Spanish bitterness at Gibraltar’s inclusion within the football community continues to manifest itself: as the new Europa Point stadium has yet to be finished, Sunday’s game is to be held in Portugal’s Estádio Algarve. The Spanish Football Federation has refused to host any of Gibraltar’s matches.
Although qualifying may seem like one dream too many, Euro 2016’s Group D does promise to provide an entertaining ride for football fans in Gibraltar. With a bit of luck, many may fancy their chances against Georgia, and you never know what could happen against Scotland either.
Sunday’s match against Poland will prove difficult, as will the fixture against the Republic of Ireland, but everyone’s attention has surely been drawn to current world champion’s Germany, who will host Gibraltar in Nuremburg on November 14.
Whatever the future success of the team, you can be sure that the players are taking the journey just one step at a time: enjoying just playing football.
Gibraltar vs Poland kicks off Sunday September 7 in Portugal, at 8.45pm local time.