Roy Chipolina (Gibraltar FA/Ian Martinez)
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Special Interview Feature

Footballers in Gibraltar? We mix Latin flair with British organisation

The national team’s captain Roy Chipolina speaks to the NS

New Statesman: Are you originally from Gibraltar?

Roy Chipolina: I was born in Enfield, North London, and moved over to Gibraltar at the age of 4. I lived in Gibraltar until I was 12 before moving back to Enfield. Then at the age of 18, I decided to move back to Gibraltar and have lived here ever since.

NS: When did you start playing football?

RC: From a young age I was always in the playground with my older cousins playing football. It was all I ever did, really. I played for Lincoln in Gibraltar until the age of 12. While in England I played for two Sunday league teams: Enfield Hawks for a season and then Southgate Saints. I have very fond memories of that time both on and off the pitch.

Once I moved back I continued playing for Lincoln and representing Gibraltar, which I still do today. Since joining UEFA, Lincoln has moved from an amateur club to semi-professional, and the club is developing very quickly.

NS: What have been some of the highlights and disappointments of your career so far?

RC: Highlights? Definitely becoming UEFA members, and to be able to captain Gibraltar in this new era of football. Also, achieving a very respectable draw in our first international versus Slovakia and winning our first international match versus Malta. Playing Poland in our first match of the Euro qualifiers was amazing too. To walk out on the same pitch as Robert Lewandowski was just incredible. The result, though, was very disappointing after a very creditable first half. The only career disappointment I have, really, is that I didn’t stay in England for a bit longer and work harder to fulfil my dream of becoming a professional football player. But I must admit, the experiences I am gaining now have helped soothe that disappointment.

 NS: What are the current strengths and weaknesses of the Gibraltar national team?

RC: Our strengths are our work ethic, team work, togetherness, and a will to learn and improve. Our weakness could be our lack of experience at this level, but we are learning all the time.

 NS: How did you feel when Gibraltar became a member of UEFA? Do you see scope for FIFA membership in the long term?

RC: I felt ecstatic. We were finally in after so many years of trying. We all knew football in Gibraltar would never be the same, and that there would be so many improvements and opportunities for everyone involved, especially young people. 

I really hope that gaining UEFA membership will hold up well when applying for FIFA. It would be another massive turning point for Gibraltar’s football future.

NS: You guys face a tough line-up in Group D of the Euro qualifiers over the next few months. Are you confident?

RC: We are aware of how strong our group is and what a daunting task we face. All I can say is that our aim is to improve with each game. We are gaining some amazing experiences and just being given this opportunity is a win for Gibraltar. We’re just over a year into our UEFA membership, and it is amazing what positive changes we have seen already and how we have grown.

NS: Are you nervous about facing Germany? 

RC: Germany… well it doesn’t get any bigger than that. We are facing the world champions. A successful result against them would be to take in the experience and improve as players. We have to be realistic, and keep our concentration and our defensive unit as strong as possible. A similar performance to the one we had against Slovakia would be ideal.

 NS: Are there challenges to playing football in Gibraltar, such as a lack of space or a limited pool of players?

RC: Most players in Gibraltar are amateurs, but recently with our UEFA membership and clubs gaining club-licensing some teams have become semi-professional, which means players receive some financial gain.

All football in Gibraltar is played in one sports ground. Lincoln, the team I represent, travels to Spain on a daily basis due to lack of pitch allocations in Gibraltar. The fact is that everyone knows everyone. However, the diversity of the team, in terms of people’s background and experience, has started to change since UEFA membership. We have seen many players from abroad moving to Gibraltar to play.

 NS: Would you describe Gibraltar as a “football nation”?

RC: Definitely. It is the most followed sport. You get a lot of fanatics in Gibraltar who live and breathe football.

 NS: What are your hopes for the future – both personally and for the team?

RC: The overall aim is to become a respected nation in the football world. It’s all about creating opportunities for our youth. One day, I would love to see the Gibraltar national squad announced, and for every player to be from a professional club. On a personal level, I hope to prolong my career for as long as the Gibraltar national team will have me. I want to make the most of this amazing opportunity.

NS: Finally, how would sum up what it’s like being a footballer on the Rock?

RC: I would day it is a mixture of Latin flair with British organisation, structure and mentality.

Photo: Getty
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Morning Call: The best from Gibraltar

A selection of the best articles about politics, business and life on the Rock from the last seven days.

As we head towards the end of the financial year we find that Europe is still on everybody’s mind. The Gibraltar Chronicle reports on how essential it is to include Gibraltar in any post-Brexit negotiations, no doubt partly motivated by the potential confusion on which the New Statesman Gibraltar hub this week. We’ll have another perspective this coming week – click here on Tuesday to read it.

More positive news came as the Rock moved towards heritage status; we take all credit following our piece on the Neanderthal Caves a few weeks back. There have also been celebrations around international macaque day.

And life goes on elsewhere – the doctor who resigned after an altercation with then Chelsea head honcho Jose Mourinho is a high profile Gibraltarian who might be in court defending her quarter shortly; and fishermen are alarmed at the government’s apparent decision to extend Spanish fishing rights around the Rock.

But Europe remains the biggest thing – and is likely to do so for just under 100 days at least.

Guy Clapperton is the freelance journalist who edits the New Statesman’s Gibraltar hub. You can also find him in the Guardian, Computer Business Review and Professional Outsourcing which he edits.