Under-fire Gibraltar coach stuck between a Rock and a hard place

Uefa's newest nation will face Germany, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland in qualifying for Euro 2016

"We all live in a piece of solid rock," sang the small but noisy crowd inside Gibraltar's Victoria Stadium on Wednesday night. It was a statement of the obvious given the outline of Europe's most famous chunk of limestone rising high above the goal to their right, yet it left no doubt that the supporters of Uefa's newest nation have a sense of humour – something they may well need when the serious business of Euro 2016 qualifying kicks off.

After all, this was the week when – after all the excitement of a Euro qualifying draw which pitted them against Germany, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland – Gibraltar's footballers came down to earth with a bump, their first official international matches on the Rock bringing a sobering 4-1 defeat by the Faroe Islands on Saturday, followed by a 2-0 loss to Estonia four days later.

After the optimism engendered by November's encouraging goalless draw with Slovakia in Gibraltar's inaugural international fixture, reality is beginning to bite – and not just on the pitch. This week's double-header took place against a backdrop of bickering, centred largely on coach Allen Bula's policy of recruiting British-based professionals to his squad.

There have been articles questioning Bula in the Gibraltar Chronicle, and outside the Victoria Stadium on Wednesday, one fan, standing with a beer in his hand and a red and white flag draped over his shoulders, echoed those complaints. "Where were they before now?" he growled of the new crop. "The supporters don't want them."

Given that Gibraltar has no professional league – captain Roy Chipolina is a customs officer, while goalkeeper Jordan Perez is a fireman – Bula has sought to add experience through a six-strong British contingent, which includes Wrexham defender David Artell and Wycombe's Reece Styche, who both made their debuts this week.

Danny Higginbotham during Gibraltar’s match against Faroe Islands Danny Higginbotham during Gibraltar’s match against Faroe Islands (Getty Images)
Before gaining Uefa status, a player had to be born in the territory with a population of just 30,000, but Bula is defiant: "I will bring in players on the eligibility rule that will make that difference, not for the sake of bringing in a player. Having said that I won't take a local player for the sake of keeping people happy."

His best-known recruit is Danny Higginbotham, the former Derby, Southampton and Stoke defender who also happens to be his nephew. The 35-year-old's appearance against Estonia on Wednesday was his last before he joins Bula's coaching team, and he spoke fondly of the Gibraltar squad being "like a family". However, it seems a pretty dysfunctional one.

The whole of Gibraltar uses the Rock's one full-size synthetic pitch at the Victoria Stadium – every non-professinal league game is played there and one training session for the national team this week took place as local children lapped the running track. But that was the least of Bula's worries as he complained about a lack of support. The Gibraltar FA recently denied him funds for a scouting trip to England, while Gibraltar's club sides will only allow him time with the locally based players during international weeks, whereas the coach wants a day a week to work with them. "From what I've seen I think the players and coaching staff need some more help with things they are trying to achieve," said Higginbotham.

There is also opposition to the coach's use of the cautious 5-4-1 formation which Gibraltar will no doubt need when they kick off Euro 2016 qualifying against Robert Lewandowski's Poland on 7 September. "We have to realise what we are and we have to defend 85 minutes in a match," said Bula.

He even accused his players of ignoring their instructions in the Faroes debacle yet there were more encouraging signs against Estonia, not least in the display of Liam Walker, a ball-playing midfielder once of Portsmouth who is the only squad member playing top-flight professional football, with Israeli side Bnei Yehuda.

There could also be better news on the horizon with the GFA hoping to receive planning approval by the end of this month for a new 8,000-seat stadium on Europa Point, Gibraltar's southern tip, which looks directly across the straits to north Africa. It would allow Gibraltar to play future qualifiers at home rather than in Faro, Portugal, where they will stage their Euro 2016 fixtures because the Victoria Stadium does not meet Uefa requirements. Naturally, some locals have raised objections, but that seems the way of the world on the Rock.

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

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin