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.

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people
News
people
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
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

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes