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
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show?
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week