Three weeks ago the European footballing world officially welcomed its 54th member when Gibraltar were included in the draw for the 2016 European Championship qualifying. Their journey for acceptance on the world footballing stage has been a tortuous one, filled with inconsistencies and back-stabbing that has dogged the governing bodies for years. Despite not being “at war” or even military-ready against any other nation, it has taken longer for Gibraltar to be allowed to compete than the former Balkan states, Armenia-Azerbaijan, Russia and Georgia or even Greece and Turkey. And that has been because one nation has disputed their authenticity to be considered an equal member. One against fifty-two other nations – no brainer? Well, it would be in most circumstances but when that nation is the most successful footballing country of the last fifty years then the rules change.
Formed in 1895 by British sailors, The Football Association of Gibraltar first applied to FIFA back in 1997 and despite not actually having a stadium capable of hosting an international game the Swiss big cheeses said a big Yes in 1999 and passed the manilla folder down the road to Nyon to UEFA. Immediately Spain started to throw their castanets out of the pram. Whilst the rest of Europe was moving to closer, forgiving not forgetting the conflicts of the past, Spain were creating a problem over a 2.3 square mile rock that they hadn’t owned for over 300 years ago. It seemed that their lobbying worked as in 2001 UEFA changed its 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 Gibraltar’s application. Of course that ruling should have meant the immediate expulsion of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales but that never happened. Whilst the rest of Europe started qualifying for the 2004 European Championships hosted by Portugal, Gibraltar consoled themselves with a trip to Guernsey to take part in the Island Games Tournament.
There was still a hope that FIFA would allow them to take part in qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. Other British Overseas Territories such as Bermuda, British Virgin Islands and Anguilla were allowed to line up in the qualifying tournament but the invite to Gibraltar got lost in the post it seemed. Instead of a shot at a trip to Bavaria to enjoy a month of football, Fräuleins and frikadellen, Gibraltar headed to the Shetland Islands for another shot at the Island Games title. Continue reading