By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
IT REMAINS to be seen how the Gibraltar Football Association handle a potential Euro 2016 qualifying tie against England at the Victoria Stadium (capacity 5,000) which is being upgraded. Yet there can be little doubt English-based football writers would love to add a new destination to their cv’s even if the GFA’s acceptance into the UEFA family caused a collective shaking of heads.
Their population of 30,000 puts them below San Marino though Gibraltar are, apparently, unbeaten in their last four internationals but it should be pointed out their opponents on the Rock were the Faroe Islands (then managed by former Republic of Ireland boss Brian Kerr), England C (a semi-pro team), the Isle of Man and Jersey.
Gibraltar owe their elevation to the Court of Arbitration for Sport plus their persistence to fight what they saw a political injustice. The GFA, founded in 1895, saw their original application for becoming a member of FIFA posted by their president Andrew Perera in 1997 turned down.
Two years later, there was better news for the GFA as FIFA forwarded the their application to the appropriate continental confederation, UEFA, since according to FIFA statutes, it is the responsibility of confederations to grant membership status to applicants. In 2000, a joint-delegation of UEFA and FIFA conducted an inspection of the GFA’s facilities and infrastructure.
In 2001, UEFA changed their statutes so that only associations in a country “recognised by the United Nations as an independent State” could become members. On such grounds, UEFA denied the GFA’s application.
Yet current FIFA and UEFA members include several federations which cannot be said to represent independent nations, such as the UK Home Nations (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales), the Faroe Islands, Puerto Rico, Chinese Taipei, Tahiti and New Caledonia. French Guiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Saint Martin each have national teams which, despite not being FIFA members, are allowed to compete at the CONCACAF confederation level.
The GFA appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport which, in 2003, ruled that their application should be handled according to the old statute, pre-2001. However, UEFA continued to refuse accepting the GFA as members. In August 2006, the CAS ruled again that Gibraltar had to be allowed in as a full UEFA and FIFA member, and on December 8, 2006 it was announced that Gibraltar had become a provisional member of UEFA.
FIFA had announced two days earlier that their executive committee had “ruled that Gibraltar does not meet the statutory requirements to become a FIFA member,” despite the fact that the Court of Arbitration for Sport had already ruled to the contrary. On January 26, 2007 at the UEFA Congress in Düsseldorf, Gibraltar’s application to become a full member of UEFA was rejected, with 45 votes against, three in favour (England, Scotland and Wales) and four undecided.
The issue was again referred back to the CAS for a ruling. On March 21, 2012 the request for membership by Gibraltar was discussed and a road map which included financial and educational support from UEFA was agreed. Legally, there was no real basis for rejecting Gibraltar as UEFA’s 54th member.
Gareth Latin, president of the GFA, said: “This is a momentous occasion for football in Gibraltar. UEFA membership means that we can begin the next chapter of Gibraltarian football. At last we’ll be able to show the whole of Europe that we can match the best with football of a high standard and entertaining style. It will open up a whole new world of opportunities for our highly skilled young footballers.
“This is one of our greatest ever sporting moments and, of course, we’d like to thank everyone who helped with our bid and all those who voted for us. We couldn’t have made it without you.”
To avoid any sensitive political head-to-head UEFA president Michel Platini confirmed that Gibraltar would be kept apart from Spain in qualifying for Euro 2016. He said: “Gibraltar will not play qualifying matches with Spain – we also have this situation with Armenia and Azerbaijan.”
The national stadium certainly needs the promised upgrade. A recent blog on Football Gibraltar said: “Having first hand experience of playing on the Victoria Stadium pitch, I feel that whilst it was a good idea at the time, and certainly an improvement on the previous old astroturf laid down, the fact is that Gibraltar is in an area capable of growing grass, and therefore the stadium should take advantage of this.
“The stadium itself isn’t in great shape and would need a good facelift if UEFA accept Gibraltar as a member. First I feel that actual permanent seating should be installed, instead of the current slabs of concrete used. Although it allows for sitting down or standing up during a game, it isn’t acceptable for a national stadium, and the lick of paint given to it last year has done little to improve it.
“Also, the general facilities of the stadium could do with a slight increase, notably the dressing rooms which are very basic. There is also no proper place for cameras to film any action. Finally, there should be some more protection from the elements for fans. Being situated next to a runway notorious for strong cross winds, fans are continuously exposed to such conditions, and the roofing does not cover the entirety of the main stand, whilst the opposite stand has no protection whatsoever.”