Incredible celebrations were held at Casemates in 2013 when the Gibraltar Football Association was finally allowed to join the European family despite obstacles placed before us by one of Europe’s top foot-balling nations. Well, we got in and now it’s up to us to really put our shoulders to the wheel…or is it, get our `strong legs running towards the woodwork!’, writes Richard Cartwright.
“It’s moving along at breakneck speed,” that’s how former UEFA Liaison Officer during that fantastic occasion and now GFA General Secretary, Dennis Beiso described how things were with the GFA now, after being half a decade as a UEFA Member. “There’s a lot to do on the domestic scene alone. We have Men’s Football, Ladies’ Football, Youth Teams, a new Intermediate League aimed at bridging the gap between Youth & Senior Football, Futsal teams doing well, a new stadium to get up and running and there’s so much more.”
The football season has now started and it’s all eyes on monitoring the local teams as they gradually start to become well oiled and especially on the lookout for up and coming young players needed to represent us on the international stage – in Europe or further afield – to fill those veteran boots owned by the likes of the Casciaros, Walkers and Chipolinas who will be hanging their respective pairs up in the not too distant future, I would imagine. Sat in the boardroom of the very smart GFA offices now situated in Irish Town, above their very welcoming, bright store full of well displayed team and national strips and plenty of merchandising, I chatted to Dennis and Communications Manager, Steven Gonzalez … “Yes, we have a staff now of about 13 or 14 members who are all very much needed to run the association,” Dennis tells me, “Running the local league which is now functioning well and very much concentrating on our International Games which sees the UEFA Nations League start this month playing the former Former Yugoslav Republic (FYR) of Macedonia, Armenia and Liechtenstein. There are four categories in this league – A B C and D. We’re in D and as we improve and perhaps one day look at winning some games we hope to slowly move up the Nations League ladder competing against much stronger teams.” Not being a sports or even football fan but as an observer I always thought it would be a great idea if there were other leagues where `like with like’ would compete against each other – the `minnows’ countries – as opposed to facing the mighty giants of European and World foot-balling nations and so giving us a better chance to improve and gradually move up the ladder… For the time being, the Gibraltar versus Macedonia game on September 6th has come and gone and at the time of writing I was keeping my fingers crossed. It was our first international game played on home soil…Did we win??
Choosing young, up and coming players can be a bit of a headache I can see, because of so many youngsters who play the game and are interested in improving, also head off to university… Steven and Dennis agreed it was an issue, “Sometimes they may choose to have a gap year and continue playing for our local teams,” Steven says, “But then they may want to go off again, get jobs and concentrate on their careers.” So it must be a tough one to keep a steady flow of good players on the pitch. As far as offering them professional contracts, I understand that already happens with our local teams but perhaps not enough to produce a reasonable income to become fully professional. “We do have one professional at the moment but maybe in the future we can have some more,” General Secretary Dennis tells me. On the oft controversial subject of foreign players playing in our local teams the GFA’s top man says… “The home grown player rule in 2013 was one local player on the field through the match and if substituted another local would replace him, now, three are mandatory on the pitch but we also have to realise there may not be enough local players of an acceptable standard to put on the field if the numbers allowed were increased even further. We need to review the position at the end of the current season and make a decision”.
A lot of concentration and effort is taken up with the new stadium. Building starts next year and `ready for play date’ will be sometime in 2021. I was shown computer generated footage of what’s coming and was impressed: covered stadium seating, super dressing rooms, cafeteria and a high standard, quality pitch will no doubt be in place. “Travelling to Portugal – as grateful as we are for that opportunity – requires a fairly high cost. We play in an unused stadium (no club team play at the Estadio Algarve) and have to set up infrastructure and so on for the game, we have to bus teams and staff all the way up there etc and it costs us approximately an additional 150,000 Euros per match (in other words, additional costs over and above what it would cost us to organise the same match in Gibraltar). Once we have our own stadium, local supporters and others will be in greater numbers which is good for our teams and then we can really call it a `home game’ where as now, you could call them, `away’ and `away’ games!” I was also enlightened as to how the GFA receives funds from UEFA and FIFA. I, as perhaps others, assumed it was given an annual lump sum and told, `that’s it, that’s your lot, get on with it,’ well, that’s not the case “Oh no, there are different headings or funds if you like for infrastructure, team expenses, administration and a number of other needs. The funny thing is, we dip into those funds in the same way Germany or any other country does and receive the same amounts. However we need the cash and put it to good use but many of those countries use it for ‘petty cash’, because they are very rich with sponsorships, television rights and other incomes such as government funding. For example, the FA receives funds from the UK government also and in a way don’t really need that extra cash.”
So much to talk about and learn with not enough time or space to fit it all in. I’m sure I’ll get the chance to interview again these two busy men and others, about the many more interesting aspects, ins and outs and perhaps misconceptions regarding the beautiful game and multi, multi trillion dollar business that is European and world football of which little Gibraltar is now a part. In the mean time the GFA hierarchy are, `keeping their eye on the ball’ encouraging youngsters to continue playing the sport by contacting amateur or semi-professional clubs in the UK to take on local youngsters whilst over there in University and in that way help to keep the conveyor belt running to fill up those retiring, important, shirt numbers on the field. Crowds at local games are slowly growing I’m told and they’ll no doubt get larger when the state of the art new stadium is ready for use. There are lots of tournaments to get involved in and get ready for, Under 17s, senior’s, women’s (they’re coming along nicely under the guidance of new Women’s Football Manager, Laura McGinn), `Qualifiers’ of different shapes and sizes at various stages, along with a lot of work to keep all of that and more going and very importantly, improve the Gibraltar game which is what we all want. UEFA and FIFA are huge organisations and we’re on board now, things get serious with tough games ahead and `be professional’ must be the important message!
… So let us support our new National A Team Head Coach, the South American, the Uruguayan, Julio Ribas and wish him and the team, our very best for the many challenges still to come!