That’s right ladies and gentlemen! It is time for my first international blog! But don’t worry… I didn’t fly out to Gibraltar just to watch the match, I’m not that sad. Mummy Gibbons had already booked a family holiday to this area of the world, and I was looking for any match to go to. Unfortunately Malaga weren’t playing at home so I was left with this rather strange, and rare fixture. Gibraltar announced they would be playing League One outfit Portsmouth.
We had been staying up the coast from Gibraltar in a lovely little place called Puerta de la Duquesa. It’s only 20 miles away from Gibraltar, so getting there wasn’t much of a problem. For those of you who don’t know, Gibraltar is a rocky outcrop in Southern Spain… However, it isn’t in Spain, as it is British. Therefore, we had to have passports to get enter the place.
We parked the car on the Spanish side, and slowly made our way up to the border. The walk was about a mile long, and there were a few Portsmouth fans also walking up, but they didn’t have a clue where to go. Luckily for us, we had visited Gibraltar the day before, so knew exactly what to do. We approached border control, and got out our passports. However, we didn’t really need them. The bloke at passport control was on Facebook on his phone.
In order to get into the centre of Gibraltar, you have to cross the airport runway. This was an experience in itself. It’s not everyday that you get to walk over a working international runway. We nearly got mowed over by an EasyJet which had just landed from London Stansted, but luckily the wing just missed my head, and we were able to continue.
We made it to the ground after walking past the petrol station which sold unleaded for UNDER a euro a litre, yes, that’s how cheap everything is in Gibraltar. You can even buy a bottle of Whiskey for £6! So with that in mind, we were all hoping for cheap beer at the match!
Dad and I didn’t have a clue how to get into the ground, so we began to have a wander around. This is when the Gibraltarian fans in the Stadium Sports Bar caught a glimpse of my Bolton shirt. All of a sudden, the whole bar broke into a Spanish sounding version of ♫ What a load of rubbish! – It was a horrible moment for all involved.
After having enough of being abused, we asked a bloke who was wearing an official Gibraltar National Football Association polo shirt where to go. He took our reservation paper inside, and then informed us that our tickets were available for collection in the away end. Dear Gibraltar, just because our address is in England does not mean we are Portsmouth. Thanks.
Off we trundled to the front of the ground, and we entered through a sorry looking turnstyle which backed on to the petrol station forecourt. There were three men stood at what I can only describe as a buffet table. I handed the piece of paper to the man in charge, and he walked off behind a brick wall and picked up a pile of reserved tickets. After flicking through for a while he handed me and envelope which said Gibbons. The price for the match was £10 each for adult tickets, so we gave him one Gibraltarian £10 note and one English £10 for good measure.
Due to the fact we had arrived in Gibraltar so early, we were the first ones in the ground. There wasn’t much to do. It’s not like the place had a concourse to watch TV on, or a spectacular stand to go and explore. We were restricted to two terrace/seating stands, and a bar/tent which hadn’t even been set up yet. It was far too hot, and with an hour until kick off, we resorted to sitting down in the shade at the side of the stand.
After 10 minutes or so, a few Portsmouth fans had joined us, and went straight to the bar. Only to find out it wasn’t open yet. This was the case for the next 20 minutes or so. As every single English person arrived, they went straight to the bar.
We were all getting slightly frustrated/bored at the fact the bar wasn’t open, when suddenly, we saw some progress. An elite team of four Gibraltarians began to bring over boxes of crisps, hotdogs, buns and coca-cola over the pitch. BUT STILL NO BEER!
After Pablo, Pedro, Jose and Jeff had finally brought all of their stock over – whilst in the process dropping all of the coke – they finally decided to roll out three barrels of Carlsberg. Not ideal. But everybody was beyond caring at this stage. Surely if you knew you had around 500 English people coming to a match, you’d have had the bar set up well in advance… wouldn’t you?
The next person to get turned away by Pablo and co was a Portsmouth player. The team obviously hadn’t been supplied with the drinks they needed, so he got sent into the away end to get cans of coke. The young Pompey player kept pointing at the crest on his shirt, and even offered to hand over his wallet! Still Pablo kept telling him the bar wasn’t open. Eventually Pablo gave in and gave the player a couple of cans of coke. I’m not sure who the poor young lad was, but he had definitely pulled the short straw in the changing room.
Around 10 minutes before kick off, and the bar was finally open for business. Everybody rushed down. To illustrate just how laid back they are in Gibraltar, the two blokes pouring the pints were wearing vests, smoking cigarettes. You wouldn’t get that at The Reebok would you? It was £3 a pint. They were obviously wanting to cash in on what was one of the bigger games to date for the Gibraltarian national side. Yes, even bigger than the Gibraltar v Bury fixture in January.
Dad and I had stationed ourselves at the top of the right hand stand. This offered a great view of the Rock of Gibraltar to our left, and the runway to our right. In front of us was the Main Stand at Victoria Stadium. This had been filled by the local idiots called the Gibraltarian Ultras. I had overheard one of these knowledgeable Ultras asking his mate if “David James still plays for Portsmouth” – Yes, you get the picture.
A few minutes before kick off, and the Portsmouth end began to fill. They had obviously been on the Main Street all day enjoying the sunshine and cheap beer. I had been wondering if Mr. Pompey would turn up at the match, but I wasn’t sure whether he’d be allowed. Why? Because if he is anything like my friend back in Bolton; Fat Frank, then he wouldn’t be allowed to travel abroad as nobody will insure him! Luckily for everybody, he turned up with his famous bells.
The teams came out, and it was a chance for Portsmouth fans to get to grips with their youth players and trialists. The only players that I was familiar with were two of the trialists in Izale McLeod and Lloyd Sam. McLeod had recently been released from Barnet after his contract expired. He had finished last season as League Two top goalscorer, with 18 goals for the Bees. In a similar scenario to McLeod, Lloyd Sam had also seen his contract expire at Leeds United. Both were keen to impress coach Michael Appleton.
It was Gibraltars second match in a few weeks as they aim to be recognised by UEFA. The last match saw them beat Jersey, in what was apparently a heated match which had to be investigated by the Gibraltarian FA after Jersey accused the Gibraltarians of spitting. It is also worth noting that the Gibraltarians had 3 red cards, and the sending off of their manager in recent matches.
Just before kick off, we had a special guest to look forward to. That’s right everybody! Lets give it up for Miss. World 2009! She is the most famous person to ever come from Gibraltar, and she was invited to kick the ball. Fantastic.
The match kicked off, and it took a while for either side to settle. It was always going to be difficult for Portsmouth playing on an artificial surface. The artificial surface at Victoria Stadium sees 30 professional matches played on it every single week due to it being the only pitch in Gibraltar. You sensed that the Gibraltarians had an extremely unfair advantage. In his post match interview, Portsmouth coach Appleton seemed far from happy at the playing surface, blaming it for his sides poor performance.
Despite their apparent advantage, it was 18 minutes before the home side had their first opportunity. Aaron Payas got hold of the ball and tried his luck from distance. His effort flew straight over the crossbar and nearly landed in Spain.
Portsmouth then went straight up the other end and had their first shot of the match. Izale McLeod worked the ball well to send former New York Red Bulls striker Luke Rodgers through on goal. Unfortunately he curled his effort just wide of the right hand post.
The next chance fell to McLeod. After a mix of awful defending, and awful attacking, the ball fell to him on the edge of the area. It looked as though he was going to smash the ball into the back of the net, but he slipped on the surface when shooting, and the ball was collected comfortably by Jordan Perez in the Gibraltar goal.
George Cabrera nearly opened the scoring for the home side on 28 minutes, but his powerful close range effort was brilliantly saved by Pompey trialist keeper Simon Eastwood. Eastwood had just been released by Halifax Town and impressed on his debut for the blues.
Just moments later Eastwood was helpless as this time Cabrera beat him. A long ball was pumped forward, and Cabrera controlled well. He then volleyed the ball on the turn, and it went straight into the top left hand corner. It was a fantastic goal, and even the Portsmouth fans were applauding. The home fans celebrated like true Europeans. It reminded me of the sounds you hear from the crowd when you’re watching the Europa League on the TV.
Minutes later and Gibraltar were allowed to double their lead. A clumsy tackle from Algerian trialist Julien Lopez on Lee Casciaro resulted in the referee pointing to the penalty spot. Payas stepped up and sent Eastwood the wrong way. 2-0. Halftime.
The second half began, and Portsmouth fans felt aggrieved when the Gibraltarian referee gave yet another decision in his teams favour. He waved away penalty claims when Lloyd Sam was clearly hauled over in the area.
Gibraltar scored again on 66 minutes. Lee Cascairo fired towards goal, and a slight deflection took the ball past David Preece who had replaced Eastwood at half time. The match was now over as a contest, and it was safe to say that the home side had won the Festival Cup.
After sitting down for over an hour, my body was numb so I stood up at the back of the stand for a while. A Gibraltarian woman wearing a Portsmouth shirt joined me, and asked me to take her photo in front of the rock. After navigating my way through her phone in Spanish, and taking numerous photos for her, she then began to talk to me about football. She had never heard of Bolton Wanderers, and on that note, I lost interest. (If you wonder why she supported Portsmouth, she lived there for two months “when they were good”).
Portsmouth coach Appleton gave some of his younger players a run out in the second half. They all looked overwhelmed with the experience when they came on, and who can blame them? Dan Thompson, Jed Wallace, Dan Butler and George Colson could well play a huge part in keeping Portsmouth in League One next season.
In the final moments of the match, Lee Casciaro extended the lead after being handed the ball on the edge of the area. He smashed the ball along the floor into the bottom left hand corner to send the home crowd into a carnival atmosphere.
With only a minute remaining, the Gibraltarian coach thought it would be beneficial to make 5 changes. Making this many changes would take a while at the best of times… but the Gibraltarians have obviously never seen an electronic board. The fourth official had to hold up his fingers to symbolise which player was coming off. This became a bit of a problem when number 16 was coming on. They had to draft in a Boltonian called Gavin as he had enough fingers to cope. The biggest shock of the evening came when the Gibraltarian goalkeeper was replaced by a 15 year old!
Full time: 4-0
We left the ground, and walked back over the runway, reaching the Spanish border a few moments later. Now, if we thought the Gibraltarian authorities took a laid back approach to border control, the Spanish really did shock us. All we had to do was walk past two policemen, who didn’t even ask to see our passports. Easy. No wonder why Europe is full of migrants. BLAME IT ON THE SPANISH!
It had been a new experience watching football in a different country, and one that I would like to enjoy again. The ground at Gibraltar wasn’t up to much, and I think it will have to be improved a lot if UEFA are to accept their application. The next visitors to the Victoria Stadium are Notts County next week, and I highly doubt they will be the last English team to play against a strong and well organised Gibraltarian side.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND – 1,698 miles
- ADMISSION – £10 as adult
- PROGRAMME PRICE – N/A
- PIE – Are you having a laugh?
Gibraltar: Perez; Robba (Chipol), R.Chipolina, J.Chipolina, Payas (Sergeant), Duarte (K.Casciaro), L. Casciaro, R. Casciaro, Cabrera (M. Casciaro), Walker, Guilling (Pons 90);
Goals: Cabrera 34, Payas (pen) 39, L.Casciaro 66, 84
Pompey: Eastwood (Preece 46); Dumbuya, Magri, Webster, Harley, Sam (Wallace 61), Gillett (Colson 78), Howard, Lopez (Harris 46), McLeod (Butler 78), Rodgers (Thompson 61)
Referee: Joseph Barcelo