The Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) was formed as the Gibraltar Civilian Football Association in 1895, changing to its current name in later years. It is one of the oldest football associations in the world.
Football was introduced to the civilian population of Gibraltar by the British Armed Forces in the late 19th century. It is not known exactly when the first civilian football teams were formed, but the earliest records mention that the Prince of Wales F.C. already existed in 1892, and the Gibraltar F.C. was formed in November 1893.
The GFA was formed as an increasing number of football clubs were coming into existence in Gibraltar, and the association was designed to bring some form of organisation to the game there. Between the association’s formation and 1907 the only football competition in Gibraltar was the Merchant’s Cup. The cup was donated each year by the Merchants of Gibraltar. The first ever Cup Final was between the Gibraltar F.C. and the Jubilee F.C. and was witnessed by 1,500 spectators. However, in 1907 the GFA established a league to complement the existing cup competition. By 1901 the GFA had established a representative national team, competing against British military teams. This representative team continued to play down the years, their highlight probably being a draw against Real Madrid C.F. in 1949.
In 1902, the military authorities in Gibraltar designated one of their four football grounds at North Front as a civilian ground. Before this there was no civilian football grounds in Gibraltar, so the only way the Gibraltar Civilian Football Association could practice outside the annual Merchants Cup was by playing friendly matches against the military teams whenever possible.
Gibraltar Football League
The Gibraltar Football League was set up in October 1907. The military had well-established league and cup competitions before this, but local civil teams were not allowed to compete in them. The first league competition saw eight teams competing, with Prince of Wales F.C. being the winner. The growing success of the league and cup competitions was reflected in the increasing number of new teams that were registering with the association. Such was the increase in participating teams that a Second Division was added in 1909, and in 1910 the association was organising separate leagues and cup competitions for senior and junior divisions. This continuously growing interest in football in Gibraltar was also reflected in the association’s affiliation with The English Football Association in 1909.
Years later, the Gibraltar Civilian Football Association changed its name to the Gibraltar Football Association; it has continued to organise league competitions and promote the sport within The Rock to this day.
The period between 1949 to 1955 is regarded as the “Golden era” for football in Gibraltar. It was during this time that world renowned teams such as Real Madrid C.F., Atlético Madrid, Real Valladolid and Admira Wacker among many others were arriving on The Rock to play against the national team who acquitted themselves admirably against professionals despite being amateurs.
The GFA originally tried to become a full member of FIFA so that its national team was allowed to compete in more international competitions. This attempt was met with fierce opposition from the Royal Spanish Football Federation and had been unsuccesful until the 2013 UEFA acceptance.
The GFA’s application for becoming a member of FIFA was filed in 1997. Two years later, FIFA confirmed the opening of the procedure and forwarded the GFA application to the appropriate continental confederation, UEFA, since according to FIFA statutes it is the responsibility of confederations to grant membership status to applicants. In 2000, a joint delegation of UEFA and FIFA conducted an inspection on the GFA’s facilities and infrastructure. The Spanish Football Association strongly opposed to the GFA’s application. However, in 2001, the UEFA changed its statutes so that only associations in a country “recognised by the United Nations as an independent State” could become members. On such grounds, UEFA denied the GFA’s application.
Current FIFA and UEFA members include several federations which cannot be said to represent independent nations, such as the UK Home Nations (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales), the Faroe Islands, Hong Kong, Macau, Puerto Rico, Chinese Taipei, Tahiti and New Caledonia. French Guiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Saint Martin each have national teams which, despite not being FIFA members, are allowed to compete at the CONCACAF confederation level.
The GFA appealed to the world’s highest sporting court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which in 2003 ruled that the GFA application should be handled according to the old statute. However, UEFA continued to refuse accepting the GFA as member. In August 2006, the CAS ruled again that Gibraltar had to be allowed as a full UEFA and FIFA member, and on 8 December 2006, it was announced that Gibraltar had become a provisional member of UEFA.
However, full membership required a vote of the UEFA membership. Leading up to this vote, the Spanish Football Federation lobbied against Gibraltar’s membership. Spanish delegates had for some months, by attempting to secure support for their position, even been threatening to withdraw Spanish teams from UEFA competitions if Gibraltar was approved. The Federation’s president Ángel María Villar attributed Spain’s opposition to the Spanish claim over Gibraltar. He also claimed it was a political issue and referred to the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. On 26 January 2007 in the UEFA Congress held in Düsseldorf (Germany), Gibraltar’s application to become a full member of UEFA was rejected, with 45 votes against, 3 in favour (namely, England, Scotland and Wales), and 4 undecided. Gibraltar’s application was at this point thrown out, whilst Montenegro was unanimously granted membership.
On 21 March 2012 the request for full UEFA membership by Gibraltar was discussed again, and a road map which includes financial and educational support from UEFA was agreed. This road map was to run until the Ordinary UEFA Congress in 2013, when member associations would vote on the request for admission. UEFA’s Executive Committee admitted the GFA as a provisional member as of the 1 October 2012, pending a vote at its Congress in May 2013 to make it a full member.
After the vote at the UEFA congress held in London on 24 May 2013, Gibraltar was accepted as a full UEFA member. A vote was carried out, a clear majority was found to have voted to admit Gibraltar to UEFA. Spain voted against the proposal.
Gibraltar became the smallest UEFA member by population, behind San Marino, then Liechtenstein and the Faroe Islands. Following the example of Armenia and Azerbaijan, it was confirmed that Gibraltar and Spain would be kept apart in qualifying groups for the European Championship (the Euros).
As part of the celebrations for the GFA’s achievement, a 54p stamp was issued by the Gibraltar Philatelic Bureau commemorating the association becoming the 54th member of UEFA.