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.

election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'