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‘It is doors we would never have opened in the past’

Gibraltar hosts for the first time a competitive international qualifier in Gibraltar next Saturday. The UEFA Futsal Euro Preliminary round qualifier group matches which will see Gibraltar pitted against Sweden and Montenegro in the hope of reaching the finals in Slovenia is the first time Gibraltar plays in Gibraltar. It will also be the first time a senior international qualifier tournament is hosted on the Rock.
Looking ahead at next week’s tournament and its organisation Steven Gonzalez Media spokesman for the Gibraltar Football Association spoke with Stephen Ignacio.

How difficult has it been to organise this tournament?
In a way it has been quite easy because we are used to it with this size, with the national A Team the organisation was massive. It was a very steep learning curve that we faced ahead of our first qualifier initially against Poland.
So we have been there, we have done it. We are a small team but we work very well together. We know what our roles are. We know what we have to do and no one shrieks their responsibilities. We have done a futsal tournament before. All be it at club level, but the same level, so we know what’s coming it has been pretty good so far.

How different is it hosting it in Gibraltar as opposed to hosting it away from home, like the national A team when they played in Faro?
Its chalk and cheese. You are working with your suppliers, your home facilities, you are working at home basically. That is, no matter how good or how brilliant the facilities are in Faro for the men senior national team, working at home is so much easier than you are used to you. For example if you need an internet connection say at the stadium you know the way they work the language that they speak. You know that they are there to work for you and they are not trying to pull a fast one for a quick buck. It’s just so much easier.

Will the cost come down by hosting it in Gibraltar?
My remit is not to look at cost but I would assume so. For a start we don’t have to move the whole office to a different country so you automatically save on that.
One thing that it has and no-one reports on is that it has a massive effect on staff morale. You finish your day’s work whatever time that maybe and you go home. And that’s a godsend. You know you are going home. It might sound really bad but you know you don’t have to sleep in another hotel room. You get in wake up in the morning drive across to work. I can take my kids to school not call up and find out how they are.
The big thing it has, something we are have and everyone is very conscious of, is everyone can see it too. You can be anyone, a fan, a dad, a mum with their child, even a member of the media and you don’t have to get in a car and drive 400 miles to get to a match. It’s huge.

Do you expect a big turnout?
We expect a turn out. It’s the first time a national team has played or will play a competitive home game in Gibraltar.

We saw how close to 1,200 fans watched the match between Lincoln and Europa, do you think this shows people will go and watch matches?
For some it shows that the market is there and that the desire and appetite to consume football is there. Again how much of that is the work Lincoln and Europa have done is probably quite a lot.
A lot of it could be down to the fact they are the most successful teams in the past 3 years and they have built up this rivalry between themselves. Over the past 3 years we have been in UEFA.
I think that it’s great. I think it’s great for the league, it’s great for football in general that we can have a domestic game at the beginning of January, that as you can say, we get over a thousand people. Where for all intents and purposes there is still how many league games left to go? There are only three points riding on that match. Okay it might be three massive points but you never know.

How difficult was it bringing the qualifiers to Gibraltar?
We had the dry run in the futsal cup with Lynx in which the organisational element and the logistical elements were practically the same because it’s a preliminary qualifier and UEFA came. They send their observers, they send their futsal people not just to see but to observe and see the infrastructure availability in Gibraltar of this size. They loved it.
So when we expressed an interest to host that tournament to be able to move to future national tournaments, like the one we got at the moment, when we expressed an interest to develop that into this tournament coming up they bit our arm off.

Considering futsal does not have that wide media appeal and following as senior eleven aside football will we get exposure?
For sure. Any national team that travels puts our nation on the map. However, by however small, look now we are welcoming guests from Sweden and Montenegro to play in an international tournament in Gibraltar at this level which we would never have had before. Before we even joined UEFA or FIFA we would never have contemplated it so for sure it’s a lot more exposure than we got before.
Futsal as you say does not generate the interest. It doesn’t generate the revenues or the commercial aspects as eleven a side football does globally, for sure but we know futsal is big in Europe. It’s massive across in Spain, in Portugal, in some of the eastern European countries it’s huge.
It is exposure to countries to which we would never have opened doors to in the past.

Do you think this could lead to other things?
We have to make a distinction that each UEFA tournament has its own rule book, distinctions, characteristics that apply to each tournament and we cannot just say we hosted a futsal one, it’s a no-brainer and now we are going to host a national a team, under 21s or whatever. For every single tournament there are a certain set of criteria. A certain set of stipulations which you have to meet to host a tournament.
We did a couple years ago. We did a youth development tournament. We have done a women’s development tournament. Those things at the moment we are capable of doing. We will now have to go with our Under 21 and see what we could potentially host, or not be able to host, in the same with our Under 19s, under 17s, under 16s however it works out.
But in terms of our resources, in terms of manpower the facilities we have available the impact we have on other users of the Victoria stadium we are conscious that if we host a tournament of say a week long that our leagues would be affected .
So there would be a knock on effect. So it’s something we would have to look on a tournament to tournament basis. To see if it’s feasible. If it’s viable, infrastructure wise, economically.

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