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)

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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)

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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.

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And The Circus Leaves Town

So the third and final year of the Welsh Alliance League Groundhop proved to be a fitting finale to what has been a fantastic series of weekends in some of the most scenic locations in Britain.

Friday August 28th 2015

6.30pm – Division Two

Mochdre Sports (0) 1 (Owen 63)

Prestatyn Sports (0) 0

Att: 313 (at Swan Road)

The weekend opened with a tight encounter between two of leagues newest incumbents. The football ground shares with a mightily impressive cricket ground and adjacent hills provide an attractive backdrop, which is somewhat unexpected having reached the ground walking through an industrial estate. Mochdre have done very well from nearly having to fold in the summer of 2012 to gaining promotion to the Welsh Alliance for the 2014/15 season and they win this encounter with a fine free kick from the left boot of Niall Owen.

Aug 2015 154

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Saturday August 29th 2015

10.45am– Division Two

Amlwch Town (1) 1 (Griffiths 45)

Nantlle Vale (2) 2 (A.Hughes 2, S.Williams 40)

Att: 318 (at Lôn Bach)

A reverse fixture from last season’s groundhop sees the visitors win the points in another close game. Prior to kick off a frankly moving speech sees the unveiling of the new stand at Lon Bach, shoehorned into the only available space at the ground, with the widow of former club stalwart John Thomas cutting the ribbon. The club had played in the second tier Cymru Alliance in 2002/03 but after a disastrous campaign they regrouped in the Anglesey League.

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13.30pm– Division Two

Llanerch-y-medd (2) 3 (J.Jones 5, M.Jones 29,47)

Blaenau Ffestiniog Amateurs (2) 2 (Bradley 35,45)

Att: 317 (at Cae Tan Parc)

A steep climb up into the hills and a real surprise to find a super ground at Tan Parc complete with a seated stand on the far side of this exposed venue. A cracking end-to-end match culminated with just about the right result.

Aug 2015 205

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16.45pm– Division One

Trearddur Bay United (3) 4 (Murphy 6, Thomas 17,28, C.Williams 46)

St.Asaph City (0) 3 (J.Jones 48,86, Johns 74)

Att: 304 (at Lôn Issalt)

A real seaside location on Holy Island sees Trearddur Bay’s narrow Lon Issalt packed for this encounter. The boundary wall does makeshift service as a grandstand and many take the hike up the adjacent hill to really appreciate the natural beauty of this fine venue. The home side look hugely impressive in the first half before seemingly running out of puff as the visitors almost clawed back a huge deficit.

Aug 2015 251

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19.45pm– Division One

Llangefni Town (0) 4 (Evans 58, Hughes 65, I.Jones 74, S.Jones 79)

Llanfairpwll (0) 0

Att: 409 (at Cae Bob Parry)

The best appointed ground of the weekend as you would expect given the club’s former tenure in the Welsh Premier League. Cover on all four sides and plastic seating with no little provenance having been acquired from both Gay Meadow and Maine Road. A close first half is followed by the complete opposite in the first half as the hosts threatened to run riot.

Aug 2015 260

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Sunday August 30th 2015

11.30am– Division One

Llanberis (0) 1 (R.Parry 68)

Pwllheli (0) 1 (M.Jones 76)

Att: 333 (at Fforde Padarn)

In the shadow of mighty Snowdon you would expect a scenic ground and Fforde Padern certainly didn’t disappoint. Mountains prevail all around and Llyn Padarn glistens in the early morning sun. A tight encounter is frequently punctuated by the whistles and expelling of steam from the nearby mountain railway. Glorious.

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Aug 2015 320

14.30pm– Division One

Llanrug United (0) 2 (Palmer 63, D.Williams 86)

Llanrwst United (0) 1 (Jenkins 79)

Att:324 (at Eithin Duon)

A short drive out of Llanberis finds a lovely little football ground which is dwarfed by a pylon in the adjacent field. The club have played here since 1968 when the village team was re-established after a nine year hiatus caused by numerous problems trying to find a suitable home ground. Prior to that the club had also been in trouble with the North Wales Coast Football Association, for staging several illegal matches outside of the official football season! The two sides really slug this one out and the hosts secure the points with a goal from David Williams.

18.00pm– Division Two

Mynydd Llandegai (1) 3 (Hughes 6, pen 70, Whitmore 74)

Meliden (1) 2 (Szabo 21, Buckley 76)

Att: 305 (at Cae Peldroed)

Wow. Just wow. A steep ascent into the mountains again to some 850 feet above sea level.  This tiny village’s playing field is probably the only relatively flat piece of land for miles. The scenery is breathtaking, from heather covered mountains to a derelict stone built dwelling, from a stone monument to a planted garden it’s a very attractive place to watch a football match. It’s a very decent encounter too, just shaded by the hosts.

Aug 2015 352

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Sunday August 31st 2015

11.30am– Division Two

Pentreath (4) 10 (McGonigle 1,19, 55, 56, R.Roberts 14, Monument 37, 53, C.Jones 57, 89, D.Owen 73)

Gaerwen (2) 2 (McGuiness 21, Leuthwaite 27)

Att: 376 (at Bryniau Field)

Back onto Anglesey for this match at a typical small village playing field. Minor consternation occurs when one of the coaches reverses perilously close to the local war memorial. The ground also features a set of medieval stocks, punishment for a bad performance maybe? A very one sided game saw the hosts score at will in the second half. It will certainly be a long season for poor old Gaerwen.

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Aug 2015 378

14.45pm- League Cup 1st Round

Llanllyfni (1) 4 (A.Owen 3,90, C.Parry 49, Daniels 57)

Trearddur Bay United (1) 1 (Moore 42)

Att: 307 (at Cae Brenin Sior V)

The game that nearly wasn’t following the pull outs of both Bethesda Athletic and Halkyn United. Fortunately Trearddur Bay came to the rescue and sent a side to contest this League Cup tie. So late was the re-arranged game you can certainly forgive five of their players turning up late for the game. The home side, new to the league following their triumph in the Gwynedd League, look very impressive and the result was never in any doubt.

Aug 2015 382

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18.15pm– Division Two

Penmaenmawr Phoenix (2) 3 (A.Caldecott 21, Davies 44, T.Paddock 90)

Greenfield (1) 4 (Pritchard 39, Shaun Beck 56, G.Henley 59,80)

Att: 431 (at Cae Sling)

A packed Cae Sling provides the perfect coda to this wonderful weekend of football and the two combatants produce a goal feast as well with Greenfield just doing enough to win the points. You almost get blasé about the scenery of these grounds but Cae Sling is a really stunning place to see a game.

Aug 2015 394

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Tastes and Smells of the Weekend

Lobscows (Llanerch-y-medd)

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Chicken, leek and potato stew – Trearddur Bay United

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Fish Finger baps – Llanrug United

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Corned Beef hash – Penmaenmawr Phoenix

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I for one felt a little sad at the end of this fabulous weekend of football as the league is now completed and the Groundhop circus will roll up elsewhere next August bank holiday.