The small British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar is never rarely short of column inches, but football on The Rock has yet to be explored to any great lengths, until now…
The to-ing and fro-ing between Britain and Spain over who has the right to govern this tiny area at the very southern edge of the Iberian Peninsula has recently caught the public’s attention once again. The debate over Gibraltar, which has been under British rule since the early 1700s, is seemingly endless. However with that, quite naturally, comes a strong footballing tradition.
It was the British Armed Forces that brought the beautiful game to the country’s latest overseas conquest in the 19th century. Football in Gibraltar has a very British feel about it, the first recorded team on The Rock was reportedly named Prince of Wales FC.
Believe it or not, Gibraltar has its own, albeit not FIFA-affiliated, Football Association which was founded in 1895 after a number of new teams emerged on the island which needed organisation.
The Gibraltar national football team’s history can be traced all the way back to April 1923, when they travelled to the Spanish mainland to take on Sevilla over two matches, which they both lost. Astonishingly, Gibraltar managed a draw with the great Real Madrid in 1949.
After many years of competing in tournaments such as the Island Games and the ‘FIFI Wild Cup’ which is an alternative World Cup for non-FIFA recognised national teams, the Gibraltar team made history when they were accepted as a full UEFA member after a vote which took place in London in May this year. This meant Gibraltar became the smallest UEFA member by population, behind minnows such as San Marino, the Faroe Islands and Liechtenstein.
So what does the future hold for Europe’s smallest recognised national team? While they will almost certainly not qualify, Gibraltar can now enter qualification for the 2016 European Championships, which runs from September next year to November 2015. Interestingly, it was confirmed that Gibraltar would be kept apart from the Spanish national team in the qualifying groups.
Gibraltar are definitely a team to keep an eye out for, especially when the England team aren’t exactly setting the pulses racing. Managed by native Allen Bula, The Rock’s football heritage blows countless stronger national teams out of the water.
Maybe one day in the not too distant future, the territory with a population of under 30,000 might be watching their national side take on one of Europe’s major footballing nations, and it all began back in the 19th century, when British military personnel brought their homeland’s greatest passion to The Rock.