Scotland v Gibraltar: Visitors taking first steps on international road

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Gibraltar shipped seven goals on their Group D trip to Dublin
Gibraltar shipped seven goals on their Group D trip to Dublin
Scotland v Gibraltar - Euro 2016 qualifying
Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow Date: Sunday, 29 March Kick-off: 17:00 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Scotland, live text coverage on BBC Sport website

There was no sentiment when international football finally welcomed Gibraltar into the fold.

The national team's first foray into competitive fixtures began with consecutive 7-0 defeats, blunt reminders that the long battle to be recognised by Uefa was only the first stage of a difficult journey.

A sense of identity and self-worth are not always bound up in the emotional dramas of specific football matches.

Pride will have been bruised by these opening encounters in Group D, against Poland and the Republic of Ireland respectively, but the fixtures alone were an achievement.

It took the Gibraltar Football Association 16 years to be granted Uefa membership, during which time the national team played the likes of Shetland, Sark and Orkney in the Island Games.

They even faced Hibernian in a pre-season friendly two years ago, which they lost.

Time spent in the foothills of the game hardened resolve. Progress was hard-fought, and when the team lined up for the national anthem ahead of its first internationally recognised fixture, against Slovakia, the players and the supporters wept.

That game ended 0-0, and there was a further draw, against Estonia, and two defeats, against the Faroe Islands and Estonia again, before they won their first official international game, defeating Malta 1-0 in June last year.

Group D as it stands

There will always be limitations for a country whose population of 30,000 - the same as Wishaw.

There are only eight teams in the domestic Premier Division, and most of them play their games at the 5,000-capacity Victory Stadium. The national side plays its home ties at the Estadio Algarve in Portugal while a new stadium is being built.

This semi-professional competition, in which many of the players must fit their involvement around their work schedules, is of a diminished standard compared to the other countries in Group D, but there is no inferiority complex.

When Allen Bula approached the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign as Gibraltar coach, he spoke of aiming for the play-offs.

That assertion was naturally exposed as fanciful as soon as the competition began, although Bula later admitted it was merely a ploy to try to ensure that the confidence of his players did not shrink in contemplation of facing the likes of the world champions, Germany.

Bula has since left the role, and Gibraltar travel to Hampden under the temporary management of his assistant, Scotsman David Wilson.

A career in the navy took Wilson to the British Overseas Territory, where the former Kilwinning Rangers player was soon assisting some of the club sides with his fitness knowledge, which is how he came into contact with Bula.

The latter was head of football development at MFK Kosice for four years, at a time when Nemanja Matic and Albert Rusnak were sold to Chelsea and Manchester City respectively, and he brought idealism to his role with Gibraltar.

Bula insisted that the team should not "park the bus", and he told his players before the opening group game not to ask Robert Lewandowski, the Bayern Munich striker, for his autograph.

Gibraltar lost 4-0 to Germany in Nuremberg
Gibraltar lost 4-0 to world champions Germany in Nuremberg

Only one member of the regular squad is a senior professional - Scott Wiseman, the Preston North End defender - while two play non-league in England - Bristol Rovers winger Jake Gosling and Adam Priestley, the Farsley striker.

The rest combine ordinary lives with their football careers.

Jordan Perez, the goalkeeper, is a firefighter; the Chipolina brothers, Joseph and Ryan, are an admin clerk and a customs officer respectively; two of the three Casciaros, Ryan and Lee, are policemen, while the third, Kyle, is a shipping agent.

Of the rest of the line-up that started against Poland, David Artell plays for Bala Town in the Welsh Premier League and is the operations manager of the Crewe Alexandria academy, Rafael Bado is a storeman, Brian Perez is an electrical department worker and Kyle Walker was playing professionally for Israeli club Bnei Yehuda, but has since signed for Lincoln Red Imps in Gibraltar's Premier Division.

Football plays an integral part of life in a territory that is only 2.3 square miles, with small town community feel, and where a British identity is clung to in the face of persistent Spanish claims of sovereignty - the Spanish federation were the most vociferous opponents to Uefa membership, threatening to withdraw from the organisation.

Connections to the UK hold strong, and many of the players qualify because naval duty saw parents or grandparents spend time there.

Wilson, for instance, has admitted that he will sing both national anthems at Hampden.

Gibraltar campaigned hard for the right to become part of Uefa, and a series of competitive defeats will not diminish that achievement.

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