The Gibraltar Football Association’s website proudly proclaims on the home page of their website that they are one of the world’s oldest national associations, having been set up in 1895. Since then teams have continually battled to become champions of the domestic competition, the Gibraltar Premier Division, but never before has the prize for success been so lucrative. For the first season it its history, the champions at the end of the 2013/2014 season will be admitted into the UEFA Champions League, while another team will enter the Europa League.
Fans just have to look at the way in which teams in the Premier League in England are desperate to get into the top four and gain entry into the European competition. Hundreds of millions of pounds are thrown at the objective which has the potential to secure a club’s future or plunge it into financial ruin if missed. Every club wants to get a seat at the financial feast that exists in the Champions League, where prize money is generous and television rights even more astronomical, especially if you are one of the eight teams competing in the Premier Division this year.
The players of Lynx FC, Glacis United FC, College Europa FC, Gibraltar Phoenix FC, Lincoln FC, Manchester United FC, Lions Gibraltar FC and St Joseph’s are either amateur or semi-professional footballers and could come up against teams from all over Europe in the first round of qualifying for the Champions League and Europa League. Even at this level, the finances are huge compared to the revenue streams that the clubs competing usually enjoy.
If Lincoln FC achieve a seventh successive title in this year’s Gibraltar Premier Division, and qualify for the Champions League, they’ll appear in the first round of qualifying and receive a cash injection of €200,000 (the club that appear in the first round of Europa League qualifying will receive at least €120,000). That is without having to win a single game or move through any more than a single round. The impact that the cash injection at this level can have is huge, providing funds to improve training facilities, wages and coaching.
The hope of the GFA will be that once the ball gets moving, football development will take off in the territory and translate quickly into the national team, which will play its first game against Estonia in March. More funding will become available due to UEFA’s HatTrick programme which awards each member association with €500,000 for running costs and €800,000 for footballing infrastructure (most important of which will be the improvements to the national stadium, Europa Point) and coaching programmes. Furthermore, clubs which release players to play for the Gibraltar national team will receive compensation from UEFA which can mean thousands of euros for each individual.
The final objective for the GFA to overcome will be to achieve FIFA membership, which at the moment is being delayed for two reasons. Firstly, in order to be granted FIFA status a member needs to be affiliated to a confederation for more than two years. Secondly, the national stadium is built on a disputed piece of land, which is prohibited by the world governing body. When the 2018 World Cup qualifiers come around it is hoped the situation will be ratified and then the Goal programme will offer some more help, with a further $500,000 awarded to every member every year.
In English football fans point to money as the root of all evil, prompting agents and players to become mercenaries, chairman to push clubs to the brink of financial abyss and spectators being fleeced for every penny in their pocket. In Gibraltar, it is hoped that money will create a brilliant new competitor in Europe and offer a chance to footballing success for a population denied entry for the past few decades.