Gibraltar delivers the feel-good factor to football as it bids farewell to Victoria Stadium
Gibraltar football live through a storyline which could have been scripted for a feel-good Hollywood or Disney movie. Geared to announce a major investment which will bring a new stadium to Gibraltar and with the national team playing its final match at the Victoria Stadium the unpredictability of football was the biggest concern of all. Defeat had not been scripted in, nor did it rear its head.
With the sun setting upon the Victoria Stadium Gibraltar was to beat Andorra, it’s second victory in under four days. The stands filled with children saw the now Gibraltar football legend of Roy Chipolina header the solitary goal that provided victory to cap a week of international friendly matches which closed an era of football at the Victoria Stadium and wrote the final chapter of the present stadium.
A chilly breeze might have whisked across across the Victoria stadium stands on Saturday.
Yet with close to an hour and a half to go fans were already arriving at the stadium.
Some with memories in their hands recollecting the old days when rugged stands, rugged muddy pitches were the norm on cold winter's days. Decades before Gibraltar eventually succeeded in obtaining their place as UEFA's 54th member.
For others, the younger generation now entering football and starting to fill the east stands on the day, this was their first experience of seeing a transformation in football happening before their eyes.
Gibraltar's friendly international against Andorra was not just another match. It was an end off an era for the Victoria stadium. And a chance for Gibraltar to complete a week of football success which underlined their status at the upper end of what many see as the lower tier of European football.
It was a look onto the future not just on the pitch but of it. On the pitch Gibraltar entered the match with a significant change from just nine years before when they had entered UEFA. Only four players remained, Lee Casciaro, Roy Chipolina, Joseph Chipolina and Liam Walker. All would have a role in this match.
Each one already having written more than their own chapter of Gibraltar modern football history. Each in their own right probably legends of Gibraltar Football to look back on in the future.
Significantly the rest of the squad was a team looking at the next five or ten years.
They entered the match having convincingly beaten Liechtenstein and looking at doing the same with Andorra, which they did, keeping to the script that was never written.
Defeat was not in the vocabulary for Saturday. With one of the biggest crowds expected and the biggest news since UEFA and FIFA membership, Gibraltar could not imagine defeat as a factor to include in the record books.
It was a fanfare day with GAMPA singing and then junior players lining behind the Flag. The "show must go on" opened the day as GAMpA’s choir sung and fans arrived.
The Gibraltar national anthem had never seemed to have been sang with the emotion seen and the rapturous applause after, although this was the ambience that was being build around the match .
If Gibraltar wanted their fans behind this Saturday they returned.
Andorra started strongly trying to dominate possession from early on against pressing Gibraltar.
Tjay De Barr’s, first touch brought some confidence. The young forward had a competitor for contender for man of the match with Ethan Britto bringing to the match a maturity and positive offensive game which could easily have made anyone who had not seen him play previously believe he had always played in the frontlines. The only thing both players missed from the two games played were the goals which they came so close to scoring.
Gibraltar arrived at Andorra's penalty box and started to put their early nerves behind them. Team 54 ensuring the stands on the east side were buzzing.
Ethan Britto was to come close on the seventh minute. Meeting a cross from a surging run on the right and sending a volley across goal.
Roy Chipolina was to get the first yellow card of the match for a pull back as the official stamped his mark early but did not seem to follow through with his stance as he failed to punish similar infringements later.
Gibraltar though, as the sunset on Victoria started to make pathways to goal.
Tjay De Barr become an immediate target from early on for Andorra’s defenders. With Gibraltar on the offensive, Andorra, although still a threat, were early on penned into their half.
It was not until the 18th Minute that Andorra saw the other end of the pitch again.
The match becoming tighter through the centre.
Both Britto and Annesley had chances to strike for target, the first blocked the second going over the bar.
Andorra saw two consecutive yellows cards which put pressure on their defence.
It was Roy Chipolina who on the 32nd minute put Gibraltar in front and saw the stadium rise in a roar of celebration. After seeing the ball cleared From the line Walker sent a second ball in. Roy at the far post nodding it in for the one and only decisive goal.
A raised arm of victory and an embrace with Joseph Chipolina capping a memorial moment as Gibraltar took the lead. This could also be Roy Chipolina’s last goal for Gibraltar at the Victoria Stadium with the veteran player now close to his final years and the new stadium not expected to be completed until three years from now.
As tension, rose in the latter minutes of the first half Andorra were lucky not to see several yellows that should have been red card moments as some players already booked were saved from further punishment by a referee who will have left Gibraltar with few local fans as supporters.
Gibraltar entered half-time with a 1-0 lead and a buzzing stadium. As singers came out once again and players walked to the changing rooms fans were treated to the announcement of a new stadium (see full story in news section). A major investment which is expected to take Gibraltar into a new era as it enters its tenth anniversary from UEFA membership.
The World Cup in Qatar might have been starting this a Sunday but there was little thought of that among Gibraltar fans as Gibraltar started the second half with a Liam Walker chip palmed over the bar by the Andorra keeper. This just moments after Gibraltar was denied a penalty after Britto was brought down in the penalty area after beating his marker to the ball.
As the match neared it’s final twenty minutes Julian Valarino, establishing himself as a contender to take the role of the other legend of Gibraltar football Lee Casciaro stepped into the mix replacing Lee himself. The veteran forward getting a standing ovation as he left the field. This again possibly a final match wearing a Gibraltar shirt at the Victoria Stadium for the player.
Valarino’ she first touch was a diving header. Britto, seconds later denied a goal by a good one hand save to corner, whilst Tjay De Barr threatened time and again as Gibraltar’s young talents took centre stage as the offensive force of the national team, although not far behind Liam Walker was still producing some excellent chances.
Gibraltar reduced Andorra to just a handful of attempts at goal although they were to live some moments of concern as communication between defenders and the goalkeeper saw a couple moments Coleing was left in no-mans land.
The Gibraltar keeper, however, only had to make one big intervention. An outreached leg denying Andorra what looked like a certain goal.
With tensions high and the visitors gaining ground in possession although with few opportunities things were to boil over. An incident by the touchline infront of the east stand seeing players clash with confrontations between players and technical personnel by the benches as a reaction needing players to be split apart.
As things calmed down, Gibraltar responded by changing the dynamics of the match with Joseph’s Chipolina and Kelvin Morgan coming on. Tjay De Barr among those substituted.
The physical presence of Morgan, although late in the match provided Gibraltar with an added aggressiveness upfront which Andorra found difficult to handle.
Gibraltar was to keep their momentum into injury time taking away a deserved victory to the roar of a Gibraltar crowd which also made their feelings known to the visitors as they departed the field.
Two victories in four days and the announcement of a new stadium bringing the feel-good factor back to Gibraltar football once again.
(More images coming later)