The BIG day arrives for Lincoln Red Imps
One hundred and fifty-plus Greek fans, followers of Paok, will be expected to descended upon Victoria Stadium this evening as Lincoln Red Imps take on the Greek side in the Europa Conference League group stage.
The scenes will be new for the Gibraltar national league champions, with a greater audience expected watching their television screens than ever before as UEFA’s media phenomena arrives on the Rock.
Lincoln Red Imps will enter the match as the underdogs yet nobody will be under estimating their capabilities of producing a result after having reached the group stage of the competition.
This was highlighted by Paok player Jasmin Kurtis who acknowledged that “somebody coming into the group stage of the competition has to have some good quality.” The Paok players adding that his team were not “underrating” Lincoln Red Imps and would play against them as they have against other teams.
The underdog label was one which was also acknowledged by Lincoln Red Imps head coach Mick McElwee, who had his own views on how this impacted on his players.
“We have been the underdogs in every single tie we have played so far,” he said at a press conference.
“The players have gone into matches knowing that the odds are stacked against them and in those matches we have been able to deal with that situation really well. Credit to the players for that. It’s not easy to play with that situation.”
“You could say they have nothing to lose but they do have a lot to lose even though they are underdogs. So credit for the players to be able to handle those situations.”
Lincoln Red Imps look certain to face Paok without either Lee Casciaro or Liam Walker fully ready to play. Lee Casciaro is understood to still be nursing an injury which could still see him miss the match altogether.
Liam Walker, although on the path to recovery is also still not considered, according to sources close to the club, to have fully recovered and was not expected to be in the starting eleven.
The match presents itself as a double challenge to Lincoln Red Imps. The small-sized club structure will be fully tested having to meet UEFA requirements in hosting its first group stage match. Already the club is under tight scrutiny as UEFA assess their organisation, providing advise and consultation at the same time.
The group stage has also brought to the forefront challenges for players, especially those playing at national team level, who now have to continue playing on three different fronts during the next three months.
This was brought to the forefront by Lincoln Red Imps captain Roy Chipolina during a six minute feature report broadcast by UEFA this week. The player, himself a semi-pro whose main employment is as a customs officer, highlighting how he had already used up his annual leave at work and did not know how he would cope in the coming months.
The feature programme itself highlighted how Lincoln Red Imps had progressed into the group stage bringing to the forefront how Mick McElwee has played an integral part in the club for over three decades.
For the club, win or lose, every match they play in the group stage will be a historic occasion this season as they debut at this level of a UEFA competition.
Financially also the club will receive one of the biggest financial boosts it has received since it was founded. Although the benefits will most likely not be seen until the end of the season when they will by then know what the true figure will be, Lincoln Red Imps will be guaranteed a financial cushion into the next season which few others in local football will be able to match without external support.