Football in Gibraltar is a very popular sport. It is one of the top 10 oldest football associations in the world, and it was formed in 1895, 115 years ago, with its first league competition being created 103 years ago, in 1907. However, there was evidence of football being played in the 1800’s between military regiments and naval vessels. There was a Prince of Wales football club in existence back in 1892, and Gibraltar Football club was created in 1983 by cricketers who wanted something to do during the winter months, when the cricket season was over.
In the years before the first league was created, the only known competition played was the Merchants Cup, with the cup being donated to the then Gibraltar Civilian Football Association (GCFA) by the Merchants of Gibraltar. In 1907, the first league competition was created, with the eventual winners being Prince of Wales FC, contested between eight teams. Football gained huge popularity in Gibraltar, and by the 1909-10 season, the senior division had two leagues, and there were also junior leagues ran by the GCFA. This popularity was proven when the GCFA affiliated with the FA of England in 1909.
The period of 1949 to 1955 is considered to be the “golden era” of Gibraltarian football, as this period was when teams from Admira FC and Wacker FC to the mighty forces of Real and Atletico Madrid came to Gibraltar to play the national side, one of the highlights being a 2-2 draw against Real Madrid, impressive considering it was professionals versus amateurs.
Many teams have come and gone throughout the 106 years of Gibraltarian football, and this season, Gibraltar hosts two senior divisions, a reserve divisions, as well as numerous youth leagues from Under 7 to Under 15 level (whose players normally feed into the reserve teams of the teams they do play for). Currently the driving force in Gibraltar by far is Lincoln FC, having won 8 of the last 9 seasons, under both the names of Lincoln FC and Newcastle FC (named so as Freddy Sheppard, then Newcastle chairman, who owns a house in Gibraltar, sponsored the side with football shirt replicas of the Newcastle United kits), with the only exception being a win by Gibraltar United FC in the 2001/2002 season, a year Gibraltar United almost did a clean sweep of every senior and youth competition in Gibraltar, bar the Under 13 league which they lost on the final day. Lincoln show no signs of stopping their power any time soon, and are almost guaranteed champions, if not champions already, with an 18 point lead with 6 games to go, and a goal difference 40 better than second placed, whilst also being undefeated, which in itself is unsurprising.
Gibraltar applied for UEFA membership back in 1999, after they applied to join FIFA in 1997, and were told to join UEFA. This seemed to be all but done, but attempts from Spain stopped such a bid, and changed the rules so that nations had to be UN members to join UEFA. An alternative approach, something I agree with, would be for Gibraltar to join CAF, but this idea has never really caught on.
Football in Gibraltar is improving, with a few players playing in the regional leagues of Spain (the most notable being Joseph Chipolina of Real Balompedica Linense, who were relegated from the Segunda B4 last season), however, a lack of real competition outside of the leagues (the only international competition which Gibraltar enter is the bi-annual Island Games), means that interest, especially in the lower leagues, is gradually declining, and something needs to be done to make sure that this decline stops. However, without any recognition by FIFA or UEFA, this would be hard, as there is little to aspire to in Gibraltar for young, budding footballers, apart from it being something to do on the weekend.