Coming across the Mediterranean from Morocco you cannot miss Gibraltar, one of two Pillars of Hercules of ancient times, and home to 30,000 Gibraltarians, and a bone of contention for years for the Spanish Government.
You take the bus to La Linea, walk 400 metres, cross the airport runway made of refuse from the man made defensive tunnels from both the Napoleonic Wars and World War II and you are in this small country half a mile by 2 1/2 miles, mostly mountain. It was named after a Berber General Tariq Ibn-Zia who called it Jabal Tariq- Rock of Tariq, who established a settlement in 711 AD but it was too valuable for European armies for him to hold on to it. First the Spanish and now the British control the Straits for over 300 years. Its harbour is invaluable for refueling, and it was the first port of call for Admiral Horatio Nelson's ship VICTORY after the successful Battle of Trafalgar against the Spanish fleet. He was killed on deck and his body preserved in a barrel of brandy on the long triumphant voyage home to a hero's burial. In World War II the civilian inhabitans were evacuated and extensive tunnels dug which protected stores and about 20,000 troops.
On 19th January in Dusseldorf, the last item of business at the annual UEFA meeting will be the acceptance or rejection of a bid by the Gibraltar F.A. to become the newest member, along with the F.A. of Montenegro to add to the present 52 members. The earlier buisiness will be dominated by the Battle for the Presidency between encumbant Lennart Johansson of Sweden, and Sepp Blatter's pal and French soccer legend Michel Platini. Already Gibraltar has twice taken its case to the Court for Arbitration in Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, against fierce political opposition from the Spanish F.A. at the behest of their government. Twice, in 2003 and 2006 the Court has ordered UEFA to accept the GFA, backdated prior to further UEFA legislation designed to keep them out.
For almost 20 years in the late 20th Century the Spaniards closed the border, which is now used by thousands of daily workers from La Linea and beyond, and 6 million tourists a year. I caught a red double decker bus which passed the VICTORIA Stadium, a 8,000 capacity stadium with a 3rd generation FIFA approved pitch, and another smaller stadium and small sized pitches, right next to the runway. In town I sought out the genial local born Vice-President of the GFA and also the National coach, ALBERT BUHAGIAR, known to all as BUBI who, like most Gibraltarians is bi -lingual, although the schools teach all classes, except foreign languages, in English. As the school children from Westside School started to fill the long Main Street with their neat maroon uniforms, I strolled to the Cathedral where a little park in front had lots of children of all faiths, including a dozen Jewish kids in yamakas and some Arab parents and their toddlers enjoying the slides, swings and roundabout.
The Gibraltar F.A. www.gfa.gi was founded in 1895 and is the 10th oldest in the world. They have about 1200 registered players and a first division of 5 teams that play each other 4 times during the season between October and May, usually on Saturday afternoons at 4.00pm and 6.00pm. Manchester United play in red & white, Newcastle United in black & white stripes, Glacis FC in Aston Villa's maroon & sky, St. Josephs in blue & white QPR hoops and Gibraltar United in Red. Their international adventures have been limited, but there are frequent exchanges with Andalucian teams and they went to St. Pauli in Hamburg last year for a tournament with the host club plus Zanzibar, Tibet and Greenland. Next week sees the visit of a pro team from Dusseldorf. There are 7 a side leagues for pre-teens while U 13's and U 15's play 11 a side, and there are also inter school as well as club leagues. There are also women's teams, futsal and 5 a side competitions. All funds come from sponsors and registration fees. If you are thinking of an 'easy way' to play in the FIFA World Cup for a small country, citizenship is only granted after a minimum of 20 years residency.
For a few years the Inter Island Games have been held, (www.islandgames.net ,originally the idea of the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. Next June-July the games are in Rhodes. Gibraltar will compete in football and other sports. There are 25 members at the moment, such as Bermuda, Prince Edward Island and St. Helena, and usually 14 different sports. In 1995 Gibraltar hosted the Games and won the football final in front of 8,000 spectators at the Victoria Stadium.
If Gibraltar become a confirmed UEFA member, the new discount airlines to the Rock, plus other airports in the area at Jerez, Malaga and Seville. will be busy bringing and taking fans and teams from around the continent, and will probably attract more fans to matches than Andorra, Leichtenstein, San Marino and the Faroe Islands