Don’t be fooled – football is king in Gibraltar

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A ROCK measuring 2.6 square miles, 600 players, just one pitch. These are the vital statistics when it comes to football in Gibraltar and they underline how much pressure is on Scotland to not only win tomorrow, but win handsomely.

It was nearly two years ago – 24 May, 2013 – that Gibraltar were finally given full Uefa membership after a 16-year fight for recognition. Their football association itself was formed in 1895, and is one of the oldest in Europe.

Lincoln Red Imps take on College Europa in the Gibraltar Cup final last May. Picture: AFP

Lincoln Red Imps take on College Europa in the Gibraltar Cup final last May. Picture: AFP

Gaining membership of Fifa is proving slightly trickier, however. Fifa claim this move cannot be sanctioned because Gibraltar is not an independent country. Gibraltar’s bid is in the hands of the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Domestically, an eight-team top league is supplemented by a 14-club second division. Their games have to be cleverly scheduled on the one full-sized pitch. Crowds in the top division tend to be around 200 but can reach 1,000 for the biggest games, which is about a 30th of the Gibraltar population of 30,000. Lincoln Red Imps are the current top dogs, having won the league title 12 times in a row.

“They are football crazy in Gibraltar,” says Steven Gonzalez, communications manager for the Gibraltar FA.

“You think football is big in Britain? It’s even bigger in Gibraltar. It’s a way of life,” he added. “It has to do with being starved of it for so long and not just active players, but those belonging to supporters’ clubs of Manchester United and Chelsea, but also Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“Pubs are packed when games are on. And this Sunday night, the bars that are normally filled with Liverpool, Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid shirts will be filled with Gibraltar national shirts.”

The 23-man Gibraltar squad – including three goalkeepers, not all of whom are expected to start – are staying at a well-appointed Glasgow city centre hotel.

Who pays for the stay? “Uefa have a centralised rights policy which means you have a choice to take certain packages,” explains Gonzalez. “Scotland does not take any which means they are in charge of their own sponsorship and marketing. This means they don’t get money the tournament’s sponsors put up. They are free to negotiate their own sponsors.

“When we play at home we are 100 per cent right holders, which means we are guaranteed a certain amount of money and so can guarantee to fulfil our fixtures.”

The Gibraltar training gear is sponsored by Hastings Insurance, a UK-based firm.

It took five games to secure a first victory, v Malta. They drew their first game at home v Slovakia and held Estonia 1-1 away. However, in their debut qualifying campaign, they have conceded 21 times in four games. They are out to score a competitive goal. “That’s the dream, because we have not scored one yet,” says Gonzalez. Be warned, Scotland.

GOALKEEPER

Jamie Robba (College Europa FC)

Occupation: Restaurant manager

Father owns a chain of restaurants in Gibraltar. Made the No 1 jersey his own after coming on for fireman Jordan Perez on the hour mark against Ireland with Gibraltar seven goals down. Kept a clean sheet for rest of game.

DEFENDERS

Roy Chipolina: (Lincoln Red Imps) Occupation: Customs officer

Usually tasked with stopping drug smugglers, the 32-year-old skippers the side. Born in Enfield but moved to Gibraltar at four years old. Made international debut as a 17-year-old, scoring twice v Orkney in the Island Games in 2001.

Joseph Chipolina (Lincoln Red Imps)

Occupation: HR manager at Gibraltar hospital

Vice captain, distantly related to Roy, Joseph was named the GBC [Gibralter Broadcast Corporation] sports personality of the year as recently as last Tuesday. Played in lower league Spanish football before signing for Lincoln two years ago.

Scott Wiseman (Preston North End) Occupation: Professional footballer

Qualifies through mother, who was born on Gibraltar. Started career at hometown club Hull City and has played for Darlington and Barnsley. Signed for Preston last January and has represented England at Under-20 level.

David Artell (Bala Town)

Occupation: Footballer/Biologist

Signed for Welsh Premier Division club Bala Town last summer after a career mostly spent in English lower leagues with clubs such as Rotherham United, Chester City and Crewe Alexandra. Has a degree in forensic biology from the University of Chester and now works for former club Crewe Alexandra as their Academy operations manager.

Ryan Casciaro (Lincoln Red Imps) Occupation: Military policeman

The 30-year-old is one of three brothers in the squad. Has played in Gibraltar all his career.

MIDFIELDERS

Liam Walker (Lincoln Red Imps)

Occupation: Footballer

The 26-year-old is unique in that he is a full-time professional playing for a Gibraltar club. Most recently played for Bnei Yehuda in the Israel top flight and spent a season at Portsmouth in the 2012/13 campaign, scoring two goals. Signed for Lincoln in September.

Jake Gosling: (Bristol Rovers).

Occupation: Footballer

Another professional footballer, the 21-year-old was born in Oxford but qualifies to play for the national side because his father is Gibraltarian. Currently plays for Bristol Rovers in the Conference Premier League.

Aaron Payas (Manchester 62)

Occupation: Lawyer

Works for Hassans, the biggest law firm in Gibraltar. Studied at Loughborough University. As his work bio puts it, “in his spare time he plays football for the Gibraltar national football team”. Also plays for Manchester 62 – until recently known as Manchester United.

Brian Perez (Lincoln Red Imps)

Occupation: Electrician

Earned notoriety for being sent off in a domestic game last year for pushing an opponent in the face. Plays for – surprise, surprise – Lincoln Red Imps, like 12 others in the squad.

Jamie Bosio: (College Europa)

Occupation: Teacher

History graduate from Oxford Brooks university, Dublin-born and a Liverpool fan. Now back in Gibraltar, where he is a central defensive midfielder for College Europa, currently sitting second in the Premier Division.

John Paul Duarte (Lincoln Red Imps)

Occupation: Works for the Borders & Coastguards agency

Another one who has not played any football outwith Gibraltar. “Loving and living life to the fullest,” according to his Twitter bio. Brother Daniel also in squad.

STRIKERS

Lee Casciaro (Lincoln Red Imps) Occupation: Military policeman

Described as a player in the Wayne Rooney mould, the 33-year-old has been the Gibraltar talisman for a number of years and has played up front in every qualifying game.

Kyle Casciaro (Lincoln Red Imps)

Occupation: Shipping agent

The youngest of the Casciaro brothers, the 26-year-old scored the winner in Gibraltar’s first official win, over Malta.

Adam Priestley (Farsley)

Occupation: Teacher

Born in Gibraltar because his father was serving in the RAF at the time. The 24-year-old was at the Leeds United academy as a youngster and now plays in the Northern Premier League for Farsley AFC. Teaches at Morley Academy in Leeds.

QUIZ: can you name these 16 Scottish footballers from the nineties/ early 2000s?

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