Desperate Dan reborn as the rock of Gibraltar

34-year-old Chester defender Danny Higginbotham set to make international debut for Europe's newest football nation

It is pretty extraordinary for a footballer to make his international debut at 34 but when it comes to Danny Higginbotham and Gibraltar, Europe's newest football nation, there is very little that is not out of the ordinary.

After all, how many international careers have begun with a tweet from a distant uncle? That is precisely what happened to Higginbotham, whose mother's brother, Allen Bula, contacted him a few months ago with the message: "I need to speak to you".

They had not met in over a decade but Bula, coach of the Gibraltar side awarded full Uefa membership in May, was keen to invite Higginbotham to join his squad. The end result is that the one-time Manchester United trainee will line up against Slovakia in the British territory's first official fixture on Tuesday.

"He got in touch with me through Twitter, because we'd not been in contact for a long time," explains the Manchester-born Higginbotham, whose father was stationed on Gibraltar with the British army and married Danny's Spanish mother on the Rock. "As far as I'm aware it's through my grandma that I'm eligible to play because she had some Gibraltarian blood," he adds.

For somebody whose closest brush with international football had been a place on the England Under-21 standby list, it was too good to refuse. "I am 35 next month and for me to play international football or get the chance at my age was something I don't think I could turn down."

The fact that Higginbotham is playing part-time for Conference side Chester is hardly a problem in a Gibraltar squad made up almost entirely of part-timers from the local eight-team Premier Division. He is one of three English-based players – along with Barnsley defender Scott Wiseman and striker Adam Priestley of non-league Farsley – and his experience will be vital given he has played for the real Manchester United, rather than the Gibraltarian team named after them, Manchester 1962, from which five of his new team-mates come.

"There'll be a lot of young players that haven't had the experience of playing professionally, so if there's any advice or help [to give] then that's one of my main things," says Higginbotham, who made 210 Premier League appearances as a defender with United, Derby, Southampton, Sunderland and Stoke. "I am going out for my own experience, but there's the opportunity to help Gibraltar try to get established and get themselves on the map."

With a population of just 29,000, Gibraltar will be the smallest nation involved in Euro 2016 qualifying, but Higginbotham defends their status as Uefa's 54th member association. "I would liken it to the FA Cup. If someone said [Gibraltar] shouldn't be in [European Championship qualifying], that's like saying why should non-League teams be in the FA Cup because they're not going to win it?"

Bula shares the view that Uefa membership will help develop football in Gibraltar – which has roughly 1,650 registered players of all ages and genders – though the first task is to build a new stadium. "At the moment we have one pitch which is used by everyone," says the coach, referring to the artificial-turf at the Victoria Stadium.

With that ground not up to international standards, Gibraltar will play their home matches in Faro, Portugal. Fans travelling through Spain for the Slovakia game have been asked in a Gibraltar FA statement to "avoid the over-exposure of flags, banners, etc… to prevent any unnecessary confrontation". As for Higginbotham, he was flying to Faro having played for Chester against Luton Town yesterday.

It's a far cry from his Manchester United days, but he has no complaints. At Chester he has "gone full circle", back to washing his kit and cleaning his boots.

"There is something I enjoy about it," he says, which is a good thing given more of the same may well await him in Gibraltar.

A rocky road

1. The Gibraltar FA was founded in 1895. It had an earlier bid for Uefa membership rejected in 2007.

2. Gibraltar beat Rhodes 4-0 to win the 2007 Island Games. Their first Island Games appearance in 1993 was less successful as they lost to Jersey, Greenland and Anglesey.

3. Frank Worthington scored a hat-trick when a touring FA XI beat Gibraltar 9-0 in an April 1973 friendly — following up an earlier 7-1 FA XI win in May 1965.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

Hanging with the Hoff

Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

Hipsters of Arabia

Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

The cult of Roger Federer

What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

Malaysian munchies

With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
10 best festival beauty

Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

A Different League

Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

Steve Bunce on Boxing

Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf