Gibraltar have joined UEFA, nations quake!
ANDY MOSELEY says small nations should have their own cup competition
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.
Coach Allen Bula