Upon This Rock (Gibraltar)

The Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) was formed in 1895 and is one of the oldest operating national associations in the world. Football on the isthmus dates from the 1890’s and were kickabout games on the British Garrison which had been built in 1704. In 1901 the first organised match was reported between a civilian Gibraltarian XI and side representing the military, which would become known as Prince of Wales FC. The match took place on a grass pitch inside the racetrack that had been laid on the flat land between Gibraltar and the frontier with Spain and is believed to have been close to the site of the present day Victoria Stadium.

The first golden period for Gibraltarian football came with the reconstruction of the Victoria Stadium in period at the end of World War II. The site was originally a military pitch and had been in use since 1926. The new facility attracted many professional clubs and GFA representative sides took on the like of Real Madrid (a notable 2-2 draw!), Atlético Madrid, Real Valladolid and more exotic opposition like Red Star Belgrade, Hajduk Split and Wacker Innsbruck. In the period 1949 to 1955 many UK nationals did their military service in Gibraltar and military football leagues proliferated. The Army had three pitches out by Europa Point and there was another pitch in the town centre, generally known as the Naval Ground.

This period of unprecedented success for the GFA ended when in 1956 the Spanish government banned their clubs from playing on the peninsula and four years later the UK ended National Service reducing the number of military personnel in Gibraltar by some 90%. In 1971 the Victoria Stadium was again rebuilt, this time by the Royal Engineers. The GFA upgraded the pitch and athletics track in 1991.

Gibraltar’s first attempted to join UEFA in 2007, but their bid was overwhelmingly rejected. Spain had lobbied FIFA citing the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 as a basis for declaring the proposed national stadium of Gibraltar as being built on disputed land and was contrary to FIFA’s constitution. However, an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sports, found in favour of Gibraltar and UEFA had to agree to provisional membership. By 2013 the GFA were formerly voted into full membership with only Belarus and Spain voting against them. This allowed the tiny nation of just 30,000 people access to all international and European club competitions. Similarly to the Armenia and Azerbaijan scenario, Spain and Gibraltar will be kept apart in competition draws.

The GFA’s problems, however, did not end there even when finally elected to UEFA they could not host games on a stadium they did not wholly own. Ownership of the venue was largely with the Government of Gibraltar. The 54th member nation of UEFA then had to play its home international matches in Portugal in the Estádio do Algarve in Loulé. There were schemes to build a new national stadium at Europa Point and also Lathbury Barracks but neither came to fruition.

The issue was resolved by the Government selling the stadium to the GFA for £16.5m, largely funded by grants from UEFA. The sale price would be reinvested in other venues for sports displaced by the sale and in upgrading venues in time for the 2019 Island Games. The new Victoria Stadium will be UEFA Category 4 compliant with a capacity of 8,000. The new project will start in early 2019 and take two years to complete. Football will continue to be played while work progresses but there it was decided there would be no football tournament in the Island Games due to the construction plans. This tournament will be held instead on Anglesey in June 2019.

Gibraltarian clubs’ European matches had been held at the Victoria Stadium, including Lincoln Red Imps’ famous 1-0 win over Celtic in July 2016, but the move into sole ownership allowed national team games to be staged in Gibraltar from the start of the new UEFA Nations League.

On the domestic scene a Gibraltarian Football League has existed since the 1895/6 season when Gibraltar FC were the inaugural winners. The most successful side were the military side Prince of Wales FC, who had won 19 titles by the time they disbanded in 1953. It has taken the rise of Lincoln Red Imps in recent years to overhaul that total and they now stand on 23 titles of which includes 16 of the 18 championships contested since the turn of the new millennium. Only wins by Gibraltar United (2001/02) and Europa (2016/17) have punctuated their dominance.

The first game today is between St. Joseph’s, the oldest club in the Gibraltarian League system having being formed in 1912, and Gibraltar Phoenix. The two sides are very evenly matched and lie fourth and fifth in the ten team table at the start of play. It ends goalless although it is a reasonably interesting game. Despite free entry a very modest crowd gathers for this 4pm kick off.

Saturday November 24th 2018 (16.00pm) – Gibraltar First Division

St.Joseph’s 0
Gibraltar Phoenix 0

Att:62 (at Victoria Stadium)

IMG_0575IMG_0606IMG_0608IMG_0607

Such is the conveyor belt use of the artificial surface at the Victoria Stadium, only half an hour separates this game from another First Division contest between Lynx and Mons Calpe, named after one of the two Pillars of Hercules. Lynx are struggling in eighth place in the table while Mons Calpe are fourth. The match goes true to form and Mons coast to very comfortable 3-0 in pouring rain. Lynx are a noticeably poorer team than the other three watched today despite having one of the famous Chipolina brothers, Kenneth, in their rearguard.

Saturday November 24th 2018 (18.15pm) – Gibraltar First Division

Lynx 0
Mons Calpe 3 (Sastrie 24, Pereyra 33, Pegalajar 90)

Att:71 (at Victoria Stadium)

IMG_0613IMG_0615IMG_0618

There was an option to see a third straight game at 20.30pm, a second tier clash between Manchester 62 FC and College 1975, but it was nice to have an evening meal in the old part of this historic area.

As a footnote occasionally planes cannot land at Gibraltar airport in high winds and bad weather. This can result in planes landing at Malaga airport instead, and the obvious delays that ensues. Could be worth factoring this possibility into your travel plans.

Nov 2018 074

Advertisements

Postcards from Užice (Serbian Groundhop 5)

The fifth organised Groundhop in Serbia in conjunction with Aleks Peković, Bogdan Mitrović and Teodora Rebić of Groundhopping Serbia took place over the last weekend of October. This time the hop was mainly based in the south-west of the country among the stunning mountainous scenery of the Zlatibor and Moravica districts.

With 12 of the 22 attendees arriving late on the Thursday the fixture gods were kind to us and threw up a second tier Prva Liga fixture between the ethnic Hungarian club TSC Bačka Topola and the predominantly Muslim team from the southern city of Novi Pazar. Interestingly TSC are playing their home games this season at the ground of fourth tier club FK Senta of the PFL Subotica, some 25 miles east of Bačka Topola. This is because their old Gradski Stadion is due for demolition with a 3,800 capacity stadium UEFA compliant arena being built on the same footprint.

Stadion Senta does not have floodlights so we have a 14.30pm kick off with today’s opponents having endured a six hour trip north on a rickety looking municipal bus rather than a coach. Unsurprisingly the home side coasted to a very comfortable 6-0 win. Despite playing some distance from their hometown Bačka are well supported and include a group of ultras known as the Blue Betyars (Outlaws), who on the 56th minute unveil a tifo which says “Respect to the Heroes of ‘56”, referencing the Hungarian Uprising.

Friday October 26th 2018 – Prva Liga

TSC Bačka Topola 6 (Galić 12, Milićević 18,21, Siladi 41, Milisavljević 47, Bastajić 72)
FK Novi Pazar 0

Att:258 (played at FK Senta)

Backa Topola (4)

It was an early rise on the Saturday morning for an 8.45am kick off in the Belgrade suburb of Makiš. None of us recall attending and earlier kick off. It was an under 19 encounter between FK Lokomotiva and FK Zemun and proved to be an entertaining game in a quirky venue surrounded by old locomotives and train carriages.

Saturday October 27th 2018 – Belgrade Prva Liga Omladinska

FK Lokomotiva U18s 0
FK Zemun U18s 1 (Njamculović 42)

Att:59

Lokomotiva
We then began a lengthy drive south through the towns of Čačak and Užice, to the mountainous region of Zlatibor, named after Serbia’s tallest mountain whose highest peak, Tornik, measures 1,496 metres. The local team, FK Zlatibor, were in the Zlatibor District League as recently as 2014 but won the Srpska Liga Zapad last season to gain promotion to the second tier, Prva Liga, for the first time in their history. The club is not particularly well liked being dubbed as a “plastic” club being heavily financed through to their current level. The play in nearby Čajetina at the modest Stadion Švajcarija and we obtain our 200 dinar (£1.50) tickets at the entrance to the stand. Today’s encounter sees top placed FK Inđija visiting second place Zlatibor. It’s a tight encounter settled in favour of the hosts with a tidy finish from Dejan Vidić.

Saturday October 27th 2018 – Prva Liga

FK Zlatibor 1 (Vidić 8)
FK Inđija 0

Att:397 (at Stadion Švajvarija)

Oct 2018 040
After a late breakfast at the Hotel Zlatibor, quite the worst hotel any of us could ever remember, we made the short drive to the Stadion Krčagovo, home of FK Jedinstvo Putevi. This morning’s entertainment would be a fourth level Zona Zapadno-Moravska match against near neighbours FK Polimlje Prijepolje. The stadium is very photogenic sat in the sprawling hillside suburbs of Užice and a stunning wooded valley which was playfully sporting its glorious autumnal colours. A poor, badly rutted pitch meant the game wasn’t the highest quality and it was the visitors that took their few chances to win the game 2-0.

Sunday October 28th 2018 – Zona Zapadno-Moravska

FK Jedinstvo Putevi 0
FK Polimlje 2 (Hamzić pen 51, Džanović 73)

Att:154 (at Stadion Krčagovo)

Jedinstvo (1)

One member of the Groundhopping Serbia crew, Teodora, kindly left the game early to obtain a hearty warm, doughy snack of komplet lepinja, which is traditionally consumed alongside a drink of runny yoghurt. Our skilful bus driver, Aleksandr, then drove north west to the Mačva region via some truly stunning mountain scenery. We had a fairly tight timeline to make the start of the star attraction of the weekend, the visit of reigning Super Liga champions, Crvena Zvezda to the humble abode of FK Mačva Šabac. It was clearly a big deal in what is a very small provincial town, and we welcomed the police escort to the ground, I mean don’t you know who we are??!!

After picking up our pre-reserved tickets costing 500 dinar (£3.70) each, we faced big queues at the Stadion Šabac entrances. Our sector in the west stand had clearly been massively oversold with people standing due to lack of seats and also sitting on stairways. The free-for-all scramble for spare seats saw a lot of us housed in the sector adjacent to the Delije, Red Star’s world famous ultras. As always their support was noisy, pyro based and utterly relentless, sound tracking a perfunctory 2-0 win for the champions. The home side had a small band of ultras housed in a stand behind the goal. The Šaneri (“The Thieves”) tried to make themselves heard but were massively outnumbered by Red Star’s support.

Sunday October 28th 2018 – Super Liga

FK Mačva Šabac 0
FK Crvena Zvezda 2 (Pavkov 39, Jovančic 60)

Att:7,000 (at Stadion Šabac)

Red Star at Macva Sabac (3)

After the horrific night at the Stalag Zlatibor the welcoming bosom of the Hotel Slavija was looked on by all with a renewed affection. For most of the tour party it was their last night in Belgrade before departing for various flights home from Nikola Tesla airport. For the remaining handful of travellers there was the attraction of a midday kick off for the under 19 teams of FK BASK and Red Star. We had first visited the Stadion Careva Ćuprija on the inaugural Serbian Groundhop weekend. They have an excellent ground close to the hippodrome and it’s easily reached by tram.It was an interestingly tactical match with Red Star dominating possession but failing to create many chances. BASK equalised an early Red Star penalty midway through the second half before rising star Dejan Joveljić bagged a late winner.

Monday October 29th 2018 – Omladinska Liga U19s

FK BASK U19s 1 (Pavlovic 65)
FK Crvena Zvezda U19s 2 (Joveljić pen 5,87)

Att:116

FK BASK

With seven of the party on Wizz’s 7pm flight back to Luton there was time to shoehorn one more game into the groundhop with another under 19 match taking place on the 3G pitch next to OFK Beograd’s wonderfully crumbling Omladinski Stadion in the Karaburma district of the city. The main stadium is in an advanced state of decay and its 20,000 capacity is severely restricted these days. For the Romantičari (The Romantics) it’s a sorry state of affairs and light years away from their heyday of a Cup Winners Cup semi final defeat to Spurs in 1963 and glorious European wins against the likes of Napoli, Feyenoord, Juventus and Panathinaikos.

Today’s match sees OFK’s under 19’s take on youth product specialists FK Brodarac who have recent appearances in the UEFA Youth League to their credit. The match was a total contrast to the BASK – Red Star game the previous day, being fast and furious. Similarly to the main stadium the 3G pitch is in very poor condition with lots of holes and patches of low quality replacement surface. OFK’s youngsters look like they are going to win a hard fought contest before the referee awards Brodarac a late and very soft penalty to square the result at 2-2.

Monday October 29th 2018 – Omladinska Liga U19s

OFK Beograd U19s 2 (Pavlović pen 54, Mijailović 75)
FK Brodarac U19s 2 (Vukosavljević 70, Lukić pen 90)

Att:129

OFK v Brodarac

This particular groundhop was a logistical nightmare to arrange with kick offs not being finalised until the Tuesday before we departed on the Thursday! For news of any future events please follow @GroundhopSerbia on Twitter or join the Facebook group Serbian Football Weekends. For more pictures of this latest trip you can use the hashtag #SerbianGH5 across all forms of social media.

A much expanded version of this piece will feature in a future edition of Football Weekends magazine.