Gibraltar offering fascinating Pompey pre-season experience

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The Victoria Stadium sports the only football pitch in Gibraltar – and it’s an Astroturf one at that.

Pompey will travel there for a pre-season friendly which is already attracting plenty of interest among the Fratton faithful.

The Blues have competed in America, Hong Kong, Portugal and Nigeria in recent summers during the build-up for the campaigns ahead.

Now Gibraltar is pencilled in – certainly a more realistic foreign destination for Pompey fans to descend upon.

Michael Appleton’s men face Gibraltar on Friday, July 20 as part of a 10-day Spanish training camp.

Taking place from July 16-26, their stay is expected to include an as-yet unconfirmed second friendly, this time on Spanish soil.

For Gibraltar, Pompey’s arrival is something of a coup as they maintain their push towards Uefa recognition.

The country remains in the international wilderness, not yet allowed to compete against their peers, instead lining up a series of friendlies against the Faroe Islands, Bury and Rochdale.

That could change next year following an encouraging recent inspection from Uefa delegates assessing their facilities.

In the meantime, a visit from Pompey is on the horizon, with initial interest from Pompey supporters promising as they seek to explore new settings.

John Shephard is the sports editor of the Gibraltar Chronicle.

He was born in Stamshaw 76 years ago and played in the same school team as Ray Crawford.

And he rates Jack Froggatt as his all-time Pompey favourite player.

Shephard, who has lived in Gibraltar for the past 46 years, is relishing seeing the Blues journey over for a friendly.

He said: ‘I’m a Pompey fan – and so is my son. He is actually probably more of an avid fan than me.

‘I have been in Gibraltar since 1966. I’ve got friends who still live back in Pompey – but they’ve moved to places like Wickham and Horndean where the rich people live!

‘I can promise anyone who comes over they will see an extremely skillful side who like to play the Latin way with the ball on the ground and short passing.

‘We’ve got one pitch in Gibraltar, which is Astroturf, and our players have adapted their game to it over the years.

‘You cannot have grass in this climate. In fact, most of the grass is on the front lawn of the governor of Gibraltar’s house!

‘It would be impossible to have a grass football pitch, especially considering how often it is used. The current pitch has 30 matches played on it every week, including two senior games a day.

‘Football is the most popular sport over here and players have gone to England before, but everybody is so seduced by Gibraltar why would you want to go anywhere else?

‘Most of them would rather be defence policemen, civil servants or bank managers and play football when they can. There’s no money in football over here.

‘Why play at Wigan on a Wednesday evening when your friends are all here?

‘Besides, most who want to play pro go to Spain and play in the third division. Spain is a 20-minute walk and is a lot easier, especially when you can still see your mum to have your breakfast cooked.’

Gilbraltar has two football divisions, with the Premier League containing six teams. In addition, there is a reserve league.

Midfielder Brian Perez recently played for Lewes, while Joseph Chipolina, who plays for Spanish side San Roque, had a trial with Leyton Orient.

The side also contain Casciaro brothers Ryan, Kyle and Lee – along with their cousin Mark.

Shephard believes Gibraltar’s future, though, is securing international footballing status.

He added: ‘Our aim at the moment is to become the 54th member of Uefa – something we have been trying to do for 30 years.

‘The facilities have been inspected and it will be looked at next year at congress.

‘We have got to win some votes and I expect Spain will campaign against it.

‘Let’s not forget, though, there is only one Spain.

‘Why would they vote against it?

‘Read the history!’