- Name: Gibraltar National League
- Founded: 2019
- Number of Teams: 11
- Level on Pyramid: First
- UEFA League Coefficiency: 50th – 4.916 [as of 24 June 2022]
Social Media Channels
- Website: https://www.gibraltarfa.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GibraltarNationalLeague
- Twitter: @Gibraltar_NL
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gibraltar_nl/
Brief History and League Structure
Gibraltar had a two-tier football pyramid for the majority of its football history with the Gibraltar Premier Division being founded as early as 1905, and the Second Division being created a few years later in 1909, naturally allowing promotion and relegation between the two leagues. However, for the start of the 2019-20 season, both the Premier Division and Second Division were merged to create a single division for Gibraltar, to be known as the Gibraltar National League. Initially, it had been planned to be a 16-team league, but after a number of withdrawals throughout the past couple of seasons for various reasons, the league currently operates with just 11 teams. The season follows a winter season schedule, although starting later than other European leagues with the first league fixtures played in mid-October but still concluding at the end of April.
Just like other European leagues, the Gibraltar National League adopts a mid-season league split in its schedule. The eleven teams play one round of games as a single league (with no true home or away games as all teams play their games at the Victoria Stadium) before the league splits into two groups after ten league games have been played. The Championship Group is contested by the top six sides at the time of the league split, whilst the Challenge Group is between the bottom five sides. In each group, each team then plays each other team in their respective group twice to create a 20-game campaign for the top six, or an 18-game season for the bottom five.
Naturally, the winners of the Championship Group are crowned as the Gibraltarian champions and qualify for the following season’s UEFA Champions League, entering at the first qualifying round stage. The runners-up in the group also qualify for European competition when they qualify for the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League, alongside either the Rock Cup winners or the third-placed club in the group. Despite there being no relegation from the GNL, the five teams in the Challenge Group do have something to play for as the winners of the group lift the GFA Challenge Trophy and earn themselves a bye to the second round of the following season’s Rock Cup.
Questions on the Gibraltar National League
To get more information on Gibraltar’s sole league, we asked questions to the excellent John McMillan. He is the Head Researcher for both the Gibraltarian and Welsh leagues for the Football Manager game series, as well as a researcher for the English Northern Football League. Should you wish to find out more about him, the links to his social media accounts can be found below:
- Twitter: @JohnMcM04582246
Q. Firstly, what is the current state or performance of the league?
I would say that the current state of the league is at a crossroads. This season, the league is losing a European place [due to its lower UEFA coefficient ranking], going from four spots to just three. During this summer some clubs voted in a no-confidence vote on the GFA General Secretary after a well-publicised investigation into his past gambling habits, and teams in the league are wanting to reduce the homegrown player rules for this coming season from five players on the pitch at any one time to four, which will have a knock-on effect to the national team with fewer players getting vital playing minutes. Only last week it came out that ten people had been arrested in Spain due to organised betting on matches in Spain and Gibraltar, and GBC, the local TV/radio station, reported that a young footballer, who had represented their national team, had placed bets including local games and one against his own team. It seems to be becoming a real issue, as in 2019 alone, around 15 players/managers got fines and bans due to betting issues.
Q. Historically, which teams have been the most successful in the league, and which ones are the strongest currently?
Historically Lincoln Red Imps are the most successful [having won 26 Gibraltarian championships in its history – the most of any team] and currently the strongest team in the league along with Europa FC. Lincoln successfully won the double last season, winning the National League and Rock Cup (Gibraltar’s main cup competition). The second most successful team in Gibraltar is the Prince of Wales club which dissolved in 1953. They won 19 league titles in their history and were one of the first clubs to be made up of Gibraltar citizens rather than from British armed forces.
Q. Which teams in the league are the most popular in the country?
The most popular team in Gibraltar is obviously Lincoln Red Imps due to its European exploits and putting Gibraltar football on the map, most famously beating Celtic [winning the first leg 1-0 in the second qualifying round of the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League] and getting to the group stages of the 2021-22 UEFA Europa Conference League. Most teams do have a small fanbase though.
Q. What would you say is the league’s biggest game or rivalry of the season?
The biggest rivalry in the league is the ‘El Clasico‘, Lincoln Red Imps versus Europa FC, the two best sides in the league.
Q. Which game(s) would you consider to be the best of all time played in the league?
Off the top of my head, the game I remember the most is the game between Manchester 62 and Bruno Magpies during the 2016-17 season. When the league structure had two divisions, the 9th-placed team in the top division played the 2nd-placed team in the Second Division in a relegation/promotion playoff. In this instance, Manchester 62 had finished in 9th position and were defending their Gibraltar Premier Division place from Bruno Magpies who had finished runners-up in the second tier. Here is the programme from the game:
The result was 3-1 in favour of Manchester 62 but it was a great game, and it had the pressure of a proper playoff final game, the likes you see played at Wembley, and the scenes afterwards showed how much the game meant to both teams.
Q. Switching to the playing side of things, who have been the best players to have played in the league in its history?
Many decent players have played in the league over the years but I would say the biggest name was Carl Hoefkens, a Belgium international defender who earned 22 caps and scored 1 goal for his country between 1999 and 2008. He played for Manchester 62 during the 2015-16 season. [He played for English clubs Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion during his playing career, and has just been named as Club Brugge’s new manager after making over 120 appearances with them as a player between 2009 and 2013.]
A couple of other big names to have played in the league are Hugo Colace [Argentian midfielder who most famously played for Argentinos Juniors, Newell’s Old Boys, and Barnsley during his career], who played for Mons Calpe in two separate spells in the 2016-17 season and in 2019, and the Scottish international Gareth Williams [midfielder who played for Nottingham Forest and Leicester City during his playing career and made 5 appearances for Scotland] played a few games for Europa Point towards the end of his career. But obviously, the best players in the league have mainly come from either Lincoln Red Imps or Europa FC, in Cristian Toncheff, Liam Walker, Scott Wiseman, Roy Chipolina, Joseph Chipolina, Lee Casciaro [who scored the winner against Celtic], Kike, Ibrahim Ayew (the son of the legendary Abedi Pele and a former Ghanaian international himself and part of the famous 2010 Ghana World Cup squad), to name a few.
Q. Likewise, who are the league’s most successful manager(s)?
The most successful manager in recent history is Mick McElwee who was the Lincoln Red Imps manager but has only just recently stepped down from the role after Lincoln’s most successful season. During his reign, he won the league ten times, and between April 2009 and September 2014, Lincoln did not lose a league match under his management.
Q. In your opinion, who would you regard as the best player(s) currently playing in the league?
The best players in the league at present are again mainly Lincoln Red Imps players. 25-year-old Dayle Coleing, currently on loan from Northern Irish side Glentoran, is Gibraltar’s first-choice goalkeeper and a tremendous shot-stopper, whilst the 28-year-old, Portuguese-born defender Bernardo Lopes recently switched his international allegiance to Gibraltar to play for the national team, and he’s a real class act.
28-year-old Ghanian midfielder Mustapha Yahaya is a talented box-to-box midfielder, whilst fellow midfielder, the Spaniard Marco Rosa, scored in the Europa Conference League group stages. Then you have the 34-year-old experienced Liam Walker, Gibraltar’s most capped player [with 63 caps at the time of writing], bringing flair from midfield and is deadly on set pieces. Upfront, you have Kike, a Spanish-born forward who has been selected for Philippines training camps in the past. His scoring record is second to none, and caused PAOK a lot of problems during their first game in the group stages of the Europa Conference League, and is the league’s top scorer with 13 goals. Lastly, you have the 32-year-old Juanfri, another Spanish striker who has recently joined Lincoln Red Imps from St Joseph’s, and is a proven goalscorer [scoring 14 goals for St Joseph’s this season] and only makes Lincoln even stronger.
Q. Which players have the potential to become excellent or important players in the league in the near future?
The players who are showing the most potential are, firstly, the 21-year-old international Kian Ronan [19 caps for Gibraltar so far] who can play in numerous positions, and since joining Lincoln Red Imps from Manchester 62 in 2020, has really brought his game on. Another is the young 16-year-old forward Jaiden Bartolo at Manchester 62, who is really exciting me after scoring on his league debut and even getting a hat-trick against Lynx. He’s already been included in the Gibraltar senior team without making an appearance.
Other players to watch out for are 18-year-old Dylan Borge, Europa FC’s young striker who has already got a cap for the national team, and Christian Lopez, a 21-year-old goalkeeper who has improved no-end since joining Europa FC and recently earned a call-up to the full senior side after saving a penalty against the Dutch U21s. You also have Julian Valarino [21-year-old right-back or right midfielder currently at Lincoln Red Imps] and Ethan Bitto [21-year-old versatile left-sided player also at Lincoln Red Imps] who are a little older but both are playing regularly for the national team. Abroad you have Tjay De Barr [22-year-old winger/forward] at Wycombe Wanderers who has earned another contract for next season and hopefully he will push on for more first-team action. 17-year-old midfielder Nicholas Pozo at Cadiz is really interesting, as well as 16-year-old winger Carlos Richards, currently at beleaguered Derby County, who has already made an appearance for the Rams in the English Championship.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the league in the future?
My hopes for the league are that we get the issues around match betting sorted once and for all. Also, for Gibraltarian teams to do well in European competitions, so that we get that fourth European spot back, and that we see these talented young players progress and develop successfully and hopefully sign for some big clubs in Europe.
A massive thank you very much to the superb John McMillan for answering our questions on the Gibraltar National League. Remember you can find their social media accounts in the links mentioned previously.
If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at email@example.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.