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Friday 18th December 2015 ko 20.30

Gibraltar League Division One

LIONS GIBRALTAR 2 (Santos 45 Narvaez 53)

ANGELS FC 0 Larouia sent off 87 (foul & abusive language)

Att 65 at Victoria Stadium

Entry FREE

No Programme

I do wonder whether the Gibraltar FA have fixed their kick-off times around flights arriving at the airport more or less adjacent to the ground. My flight from Luton landed at around 7.15pm, and there was plenty of time to clear customs and complete a first, walking back across the runway I’d just landed on, to get to the ground. But then Gibraltar is unusual.

In geopolitical terms Gibraltar has been British since 1713’s Treaty of Utrecht, despite being on the southern tip of Spain, and that country’s continuous objections ever since. For years the border was shut on the orders of the Spanish, and to this day you should factor in the possibility that Spanish Immigration will decide to exercise its rights to the letter and for every single person attempting using the border. Even during normal times, there can be significant congestion especially when the legions of workers living on the cheaper Spanish side come to, and leave work on the Rock.

A word of advice on transport in Gibraltar. Traffic drives on the right, and yes you do have to cross Winston Churchill Avenue to get from the airport! If you’re doing an 8.30pm game you’ll soon realise that the excellent and cheap buses stop at 9pm and on Sunday even the rather limited night buses don’t operate. You could walk, especially if you’re staying in town, but whilst the taxis aren’t cheap, they are plentiful. No Spanish buses or taxis cross the border or vice versa.

To make life still more complicated, the isthmus linking Gibraltar to to Spain wasn’t ceded in the Treaty of Utrecht, so there’s another claim, and the airport sits across the isthmus, with the runway being built from rubble drilled out of the rock during World War II to improve the territory’s defences.

In footballing terms Gibraltar has been football mad ever since the military introduced the game in the 19th century. Nationally speaking Gibraltar became UEFA’s 54th and smallest nation by population on 24th May 2013, despite strong objections from Spain, including a threat by them to withdraw themselves from UEFA. It has been agreed that the two nations will, for the time being, not meet.

That decision has created a real issue for the Gibraltar FA, where exactly to hold international games! There is only one stadium, The Victoria Stadium, plus a 3G pitch in the nearby barracks, but the stadium with its 5,000 capacity is neither well appointed, not big enough for internationals. Spain clearly won’t let games be played on their territory, thus ruling out Real Linense’s Estadio Municipal in La Línea de la Concepción a few hundred yards over the border. The ground has hosted Spanish internationals in 1969 and 1984. Meanwhile Gibraltar’s “home” competitive internationals have all been played at the Estadio Algarve near Faro in Portugal, two borders and nearly 400 km away!

In the long term the GFA would like to build a stadium to replace the Victoria Stadium. The current preferred option is to build at Europa Point, the southernmost tip of the territory. The idea is for an 8,000 capacity stadium, but the plans seem mired in red tape, and any notion of upgrading the current stadium creates the issue of where to host the thriving domestic football scene during any building work. Any plans must allow the Gib’ League to stay put until the new stadium is ready.

Domestically speaking there’s a 22 team, 2 division domestic league which is some going for what amounts to a town with 30,000 residents that saw the land border to Spain closed from 1969-82! Add to that the reserve, women’s and futsal leagues, and a local journalist’s comment that “we come out of our mothers’ wombs kicking a football,” seemed fairly accurate!

The mechanics of the league are reasonably straightforward. There’s a game on Friday evening, another on Monday evening, and two each on Saturday and Sunday. The champions enter the first qualifying round of the Champions League, and the “Rock Cup” winners the qualifiers for the Europa League.

The Victoria Stadium has been refitted to allow European club fixtures to take place here, and despite the running track the sight-lines are good, and there’s the added the bonus of watching the planes take off and land! There’s no tea bar or cafe within the stadium but a bar just behind the stadium is well used to selling pints of John Smith’s in plastic glasses! And for those of you who like their real ale, yes Gibraltar loves being British but that doesn’t lend itself to beers other than generic keg bitters and lagers. If you like fish, chips, and a gassy pint you’ll love it here!

My top-flight game saw Lions easily beat bottom-side Angels, and the late dismissal of of Touffik Larouia was a neat analogy of his and his team’s frustrations. The standard wasn’t particularly high, perhaps English county standard would be about right, but this league and its clubs stand for something more than just a county. And finally UEFA have recognised that.