Gi­bral­tar have joined UEFA, na­tions quake!

ANDY MOSE­LEY says small na­tions should have their own cup com­pe­ti­tion

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - European Scene -

So, af­ter years of try­ing and at the risk of ex­ac­er­bat­ing al­ready strained re­la­tions be­tween Spain and Bri­tain, Gi­bral­tar has fi­nally been recog­nised as a na­tion by UEFA. Not quite enough for it to qual­ify as an an­swer on Point­less, for which you’d need the less im­por­tant UN recog­ni­tion as a Sov­er­eign State, but surely enough to send tremors around the world of in­ter­na­tional foot­ball as a long su­pressed gi­ant is fi­nally al­lowed to strut its stuff on the in­ter­na­tional stage.

Ex­cept, hang on a minute, this is Gi­bral­tar, a coun­try with no pro­fes­sional foot­ball league, a ground that does not yet meet UEFA re­quire­ments for com­pet­i­tive fixtures, and no play­ers who play in the top level of any ma­jor do­mes­tic league. Maybe we should tone down the hype, and run that first para­graph again.

Af­ter years of try­ing, and no one car­ing, Gi­bral­tar has been recog­nised as a na­tion by UEFA. San Marino, An­dorra and the Faroe Is­lands now face a bat­tle to re­tain the ti­tle of crap­pi­est team in in­ter­na­tional foot­ball. A new kid is on the block and he might be about to join the teams that boast P10, W 0, D0, L10 records in the qual­i­fiers.

That is sadly what the re­al­ity will be. Just con­trast Gi­bral­tar with Ice­land, who nar­rowly failed to be­come the coun­try with the small­est pop­u­la­tion to qual­ify for a World Cup. Gi­bral­tar has a pop­u­la­tion of 30,002, Ice­land’s pop­u­la­tion is over ten times that, while the team cur­rently with the small­est pop­u­la­tion ti­tle are Trinidad and Tobago, with 1.337 mil­lion.

Ice­land’s squad in­clude play­ers ply­ing their trade at the high­est lev­els in Hol­land, Eng­land, Italy, Bel­gium and Den­mark. Gi­bral­tar’s first post-recog­ni­tion friendly squad had just three play­ers who play over­seas: Scott Wise­man from Barns­ley, Danny Hig­gin­bot­tom – nephew of the Gi­bral­tar man­ager Allen Bula – whose Foot­ball League days are now be­hind him at Con­fer­ence side Chester and Adam Pri­estly who plays for Fars­ley FC in the Evo-Stik North­ern Pre­mier Di­vi­sion. As to the league struc­ture in the two coun­tries, Ice­land has a five-tier do­mes­tic league con­sist­ing of 70 teams, Gi­bral­tar has two do­mes­tic leagues with 20 teams in to­tal and no sign of a pro­fes­sional game emerg­ing.

The closer com­par­isons, pop­u­la­tion-wise, are San Marino, with just over 1,000 more in­hab­i­tants , and the Faroe Is­lands with just shy of 50,000. An­dorra’s pop­u­la­tion is al­most three times the size of Gi­bral­tar’s.

None of this it to say that Gi­bral­tar should be ex­cluded from the in­ter­na­tional foot­ball party, but maybe it’s time for FIFA and UEFA to re­alise that a lot of th­ese teams haven’t ac­tu­ally been in­vited to the real party. They’re just there for a pre-party hu­mil­i­a­tion, turn­ing up in the knowl­edge that they’ll be sent home long be­fore the tri­fle’s gone in the fridge let alone been served out. Like the school kid picked last by the cap­tains, they know their chances of ever play­ing in a proper game are zero, but they’re still ex­pected to turn up and sub­ject them­selves to ten em­bar­rass­ing games where the re­sults are a fore­gone con­clu­sion.

There’s some­thing cruel about it.You don’t want to watch a team play­ing out of its league and with no chance of de­fy­ing ex­pec­ta­tions. As any­one who fol­lowed Derby on their 11 point rel­e­ga­tion sea­son will tell you, it’s not a nice ex­pe­ri­ence know­ing that ev­ery week you will be out-played, out-classed and are just pro­long­ing the in­evitable.

If they were gain­ing any­thing from the ex­po­sure to the top foot­balling na­tions, you could ar­gue it wasn’t all bad, but the ev­i­dence sug­gests that they’re not, and there is no chance they will ever make it to a World Cup or Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship. It’s a hiding to noth­ing.

At least with the FA Cup qual­i­fy­ing rounds smaller teams know there is the vague chance it might lead to a place in the ac­tual Cup it­self, and if it doesn’t, at least it will be a quick and blood­less exit, not the twoyear, ten-game bash­ing that even the Cham­pi­ons League recog­nised was a bad idea when it aban­doned the sec­ond group stage.

Fans want to feel they have a chance of get­ting some­where, not just that they’re mak­ing up the num­bers.

Wolves fans are en­joy­ing League One far more than the Cham­pi­onship, or the last days of the Premier­ship af­ter they sacked Mick McCarthy with no plan B, be­cause they are no longer whip­ping boys. I would guess that the av­er­age Wolves fan is hav­ing a bet­ter time than the av­er­age Crys­tal Palace fan this sea­son, even though they left the Cham­pi­onship via a dif­fer­ent exit.

And this is why, rather than con­tinue the in­hu­mane prac­tice of ev­ery na­tional team be­ing put into the qual­i­fiers, FIFA and UEFA should look at tak­ing them out of the main com­pe­ti­tion, and cre­at­ing a new com­pe­ti­tion just for them, a Small Na­tions Cup, where all the coun­tries tak­ing part felt they had a chance of mak­ing the fi­nal, and a rea­son for tak­ing part.

Like the FA Vase, or the FA Tro­phy, it could be played out at the same time, and have a fi­nal in the same sta­dium, as the big com­pe­ti­tion. The fi­nal­ists could also earn au­to­matic places in the qual­i­fiers for the next World Cup, with the los­ing semi­fi­nal­ists and quar­ter fi­nal­ists bat­tling it out for another place or two. It might pass the rest of the foot­balling world by, but does that mat­ter? It gives all na­tions a chance of hav­ing a tour­na­ment they can win and en­joy, and, given the lat­est ad­di­tion to the coun­tries that could en­ter it, along with FIFAs love of hand­ing tour­na­ments to small na­tions with no foot­balling in­fra­struc­ture, maybe the in­au­gu­ral com­pe­ti­tion could be held in Gi­bral­tar? It’s just a thought.

Andy Mose­ley’s book Around the States in 90 Days is avail­able in pa­per­back and e-book through Ama­zon.

@nol­o­go­plays

Coach Allen Bula

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