Photographs are copyrighted to Club Official Photographer Christopher Milan.
The last two games of the season are upon us. As league titles and Champions League places are being decided all around Europe so to are the relegation places in the various leagues. Ours is no different. Having flitted between 9th and 6th this season United face their destiny in the following 180 minutes of football. First up is Angels FC.
Angels came up with United last season taking the Division 2 title to the wire. This year however has been a difficult one for the Angels. Manager changes, ownership upheavals, massive squad overhauls in January has meant there has been little stability surrounding the club. Yet they stand in the way of United’s survival this season.
It seemed for many weeks that Glacis United and Gibraltar United would be fighting for the relegation play-off but the Claret and Blues have pulled themselves out of the mire due to an upturn in form and a surprising victory over Europa FC, making good the 6 points Gibraltar had already taken off them. However as this basement battle was developing Britannia FC were getting into troubles of their own.
A fantastic first round had seen them rubbing shoulders with those teams at the top of the table. However a downturn of form meant a disastrous sequence of results that left them plummeting down the table and suffering a worryingly loss of form. As the gap between them and the teams at the bottom closed opportunities were opening. First it was Man 62 that overtook them, then Glacis leap frogged them last week. Finally, after a disastrous 16-1 defeat against Europa FC they sit one sole point above Gibraltar United with Lincoln FC to play next week. United know that a win, or even a point as we now have a superior goal difference, will put them above Britannia into 8th and out of the relegation places.
Manolo Sanchez Nuñez has been drilling his troops hard in training and the squad is in very high spirits looking towards this game. They are totally focussed and aware that a banana skin could be placed in our way. With spirit and determination the ultimate objective can be achieved. Kick off is Monday at 20:30.
VI ET ANIMO, AD VICTORIAM
Gibraltar United had a revolving door policy during the winter transfer window with a large number of players leaving and coming into the club. 1st January saw a long list of releases. Lee Buhagiar had been forced to quit due to a fairly serious injury. Aaron Collado was also released, a big blow for the club seeing the solid partnership that won us the title last year leave our defensive lines. Justin Collado was also released leaving his right wing berth for others to fight for. Striker Lee Muscat also left the club without making a single appearance in the Premier Division, subsequently signing for Olympique 13 in Div 2. Matthew Massetti, another member of last year’s title winning squad also asked for a release, he has begun a 3 month secondment abroad due to work commitments and we wish him well. William Gracia was also released by the club. Midfield maestro Mark Casciaro also decided to call it a day and was released on amicable terms. Shane Crisp hung up his boots and joined the committee to continue serving his club!
Abderrakman Bakkari joined St Joseph’s FC and left the club after signing in August. Another summer signing to leave was Sean Mascarenhas. He had found playing difficult to come by and has signed for Mons Calpe SC in Division 2. Kenneth Chipolina’s loan was terminated and he was returned to his parent club Lincoln FC, he has since signed for Red Imps in the Second Division.
But perhaps the most stunning piece of transfer news surrounded goalkeeper Liam Neale. A summer recruit from Glacis United, Liam was frustrated due to the lack of match time. A protracted negotiation followed with Lions FC which resulted in Liam leaving the club to join the Oranges.
Into the club came Ashley Perez from St Joseph’s and Carl Elull and Stefan Cumbo from Mons Calpe, the latter both ex Gib Utd players. Stefan being an integral part of least season’s Championship side. Aziz Aitlachen also rejoined the club signing on a 6 month deal.
A glut of players were also signed to flesh out our squad. Former Glacis Utd man Thomas Laguea joined youngster Jonny Vella and former Lincoln youth player Jamie Elull in signing for the club. David Gallardo had already rejoined the club as a Free Agent mid-way during October, establishing himself as Brad’s defensive partner.
Former Man 62 defender Derek Asquez was acquired from Mons Calpe SC while long serving former Lincoln defender Neal Medina also signed for the club mid way through January. Dexter Panzavechia joined the club from Glacis United on deadline day.
Striker Lython Marquez and defender Jaydan Catania arrived from Lions FC as part of the Liam Neale deal while Evan Green joined on loan until the end of the season. Young keeper Ayden Viñales also joined the club from Lions FC. All in all a very profitable transfer window for the club reinforcing in key areas that were in need of fresh new blood.
Club Captain Andrew Lopez took time from being a father, his full time job and the busy training schedule to speak to us about how he is feeling about the forthcoming season. In many ways Andrew is the heart and soul of the Club who has worked tirelessly since the relaunch of the club. He is now also part of the Committee and has given, and continues to give all for the Cause.
We first asked Andrew how he felt the pre season had gone. He was quick to point out that pre season kicked off 3-4 days straight after the league had finished. At first it was a shock to the system but the squad was soon working extremely hard since as we need to have a higher level of fitness to compete. The introduction of the new professional manager has helped us improve a lot.
As one of the longest serving members of the squad we asked him about the quality of player that the club had been able to attract during the off season. His answer was emphatic!
“The team is starting to form a solid foundation. Many Gibraltarian players have joined the cause willingly wanting to help this great club achieve its goals. The importance of maintaining ‘only local players’ is a major boost for all those who have been side-lined ever since Gibraltar attained UEFA membership due to the influx of foreign players. We have signed great players with keen ambitions to perform, which is what we are always after. Youngsters as well as experienced players who have boosted the morale, which was already high with having won the 2nd Division and promotion to Premier last season.”
“We have great players in the squad, and I can’t really mention anyone in particular as there are so many quality and technically gifted locals, who can indeed perform to the highest level. All I can say is that the GFA manager should be looking thoroughly at this squad for locals who will be playing the full 90 minutes and I can guarantee they will give their all for Gibraltar. Call ups will are sure to come as the quality in the squad is unmistakeable.”
Andrew was as emphatic when asked whether he felt the team was ready for the challenges to come:
“We have set standards very high, if we wouldn’t, what would be the point? We always need to set high objectives or achievements in order to perform to the maximum. This will get the best out of our players, especially if they want to give all they have for this club. The main objective is challenging for the Europa League spots, we cannot get any higher than that, however, I do believe staying in the Premiership is more than essential this year.”
We also enquired at to his feelings in leading a squad comprised only of locals:
“As Club captain, it is a great honour being part of a squad comprised completely of Gibraltarians. As mentioned earlier, everyone at the club wants to succeed… sometimes the willingness and ‘amor propio’ as we say, can take your further than skill or professionalism on its own. We are a great bunch of players and the love I have for this club and its players is something I cannot really explain. I always go out of my way to help the club in good and bad moments and so do many other players who have a long history here.
I understand the difficulty of having ‘only locals’ in a strong Premier League filled with foreigners who have been playing in some more professional leagues throughout their career. I can truly say that if most of us were born in any other country which was UEFA approved, we would have been competing in professional leagues too, as the skill and technique of many Gibraltarians is something which you cannot deny. Its just unfortunate that we have only just joined UEFA a couple of years ago. This, however, will benefit many of our youngsters who now have something great to look forward to; the Champions League!
Andrew left us with this final thought: “We must keep focused and work together as a team, but i can really say we are more than a team, we are a family and will push ourselves in becoming a strong force.”
We thank Andrew for his time and I know he is more than eager for the ball to start rolling this weekend and cannot wait to lead his troops into battle. Andrew certainly epitomises our club motto of ‘Vi et Animo, Ad Victoriam’. With Heart and Soul to Victory! Remember Sunday, 16:30 vs FC Britannia FC XI. Football’s back!
Mr Cherepakhov, Chairman of the Bentley Group, our main sponsors with club President Paul Collado presenting our new kits for the forthcoming season. We channel the traditional red and white stripes of the old Gibraltar United while our away strip is a bold yellow and black ensemble. Our players will be wearing these proudly throughout the season as they battle it out the pitch.