Chaotic days for local football as new season begins - and some teams exit GFA

Diexter Thomas

In August alone, 3 clubs; Leo F.C, Phoenix F.C, and Gibraltar United F.C have dropped out of senior football, with Leo F.C resigning from the league and ceasing operations, Phoenix F.C’s owners withdrawing as no buyers came forward, and Gibraltar United F.C having difficulties with debts. Instead of having the expected 16 teams participating in the National League, there will now only be 13. 

According to GFA regulations, the clubs will not be able to re-apply for membership of the GFA for a minimum period of 5 years.

Leo F.C, also known as ‘The Blue Lions’, was founded in 2004 originally under the name of Leo Santos & Sons and in 2011. Leo signed a sponsorship deal which had them change their name to Leo FC Parilla and at the end of the 2014 – 2015 season, they once again changed their name, this time to just Leo Football Club. Potential investment from former UKIP Politician Stephen Cleeve, who owns Kings Lynn Town, was rejected by the integrity unit of the GFA who weren’t convinced that the club’s acquisition was in Gibraltarian Football’s best interest.

‘The GFA confirms that its Integrity Unit has indeed recently rejected a potential takeover by a new investor. As with all such cases, the GFA carries out a series of integrity checks on the potential owner, including checks with the support of the UEFA. Those checks have failed to give the GFA the necessary satisfaction that the Club’s acquisition was in the best interest of Gibraltarian football as a whole. The proposed acquisition was therefore rejected… Matches this week, with the obvious exception of the match involving Leo F.C scheduled for Saturday, will continue as normal,’ says the GFA.

Phoenix F.C, a much newer team than Leo F.C and Gibraltar United, was founded in 2011. Phoenix Football Club also won the 2016 – 2017 Gibraltar Second Division. Unlike other Gibraltarian clubs believed to be in severe financial difficulty, it is believed that Phoenix ensured that all their players had their last month’s wages paid. The owners were prepared to sell the club, however, a lack of success over the years had made it difficult for the club to be appealing to potential investors.

The GFA said in a statement, ‘The GFA wishes to place on record its gratitude to Mr. Brian Brosco (Gibraltar Phoenix F.C) and Mr. Adrian Ballestero (Gibraltar United F.C), both of whom have shown tremendous honesty and integrity in their dealings with the association, and who have consistently worked in the best interest of the young footballers in their respective clubs.’

Because of the withdrawal of these clubs, the match against Leo F.C on Saturday the 17th and against Gibraltar United on the 30th of August will now be cancelled.

Gibraltar United has had a long and extensive history in local football, originally founded in 1943 during the second world war. The team was comprised of the Gibraltarians who remained on the rock over the war years. They went on to play against UK based regiments serving in Gibraltar and won the Governor’s cup in 1943. Hitting a dry patch soon after, they won a title after nearly 50 years in 2002.

While Gibraltar United’s team were good on the pitch during the 2017 – 2018 season, they weren’t doing so great in terms of finances. On the 7th of this month, the GFA asked Gibraltar United to pay their debts by Monday the 12th of August, or they would be removed from the Gibraltar National League, which is exactly what happened.

Gibraltar United’s President Adrian Ballestero said on social media on the 13th of August; ‘Today has been one of the hardest days of my life! Very difficult to accept that Gibraltar United will not be able to compete in the league. We were all looking forward to a great season. Feel gutted for all the players and technical team, and for those who supported the club.’