On The Ball

 

It was great to hear confirmation by GFA general secretary Dennis Beiso that Gibraltar will be taking part in the UEFA Nations League. This is a new competition that launches next year and aims to give a competitive edge to international matches, reducing the need for “meaningless” friendlies as UEFA itself describes them on its website.

As the name implies, the Nations League will involve promotion and relegation. The 55 European national teams have been divided into four leagues, with League A featuring the continent’s top-ranked sides as determined by UEFA’s national association coefficient rankings, and League D the lowest. Naturally Gibraltar is in this last group.

Which is good news, in my view.

At long last our national side will be in a position to go into competitive matches with a chance of scoring a few goals and maybe even picking up a few points. As UEFA says:

“Lower-ranking teams who have struggled against sides ranked considerably higher than them will now get the chance to take part in balanced matches. Teams do not learn and progress by repeatedly losing; now some sides will start winning”.

After a dispiriting World Cup qualifying campaign in which Gibraltar finished bottom of the group with no points and a goal difference of -44 (only San Marino, pointless and with -49 fared worse), the Nations League can’t come quickly enough.

Mr Beiso admitted as much when he said the players are excited by the prospect of finally going into a game thinking, “we can get something out of this”. As he pointed out, it should also be a more rewarding experience for the long-suffering fans who, besides the poor results, have also had to endure 800-kilometre round trips to Portugal to watch Gibraltar’s ‘home’ matches. This too should change, as the GFA is confident the Victoria Stadium will be available by the time the tournament gets underway in September 2018.

But the GFA must not be complacent. With Gibraltar competing against other “minnows” expectations will be higher. Supporters who’ve voiced pride in their national team even when it’s been on the receiving end of thrashings in the past by leading nations like Germany, Poland and Belgium may not be so forgiving if we fail to perform against the Maltas and Andorras of this world.

League D will comprise 16 teams in four groups of four. We won’t know our opponents until January 24 when the draw will be made in Lausanne, but suffice it to say that it won’t be easy whomever we get.

Macedonia and Azerbaijan, two potential rivals, amassed 11 and 10 points respectively in their World Cup qualifying groups. Faroe Islands, once Europe’s whipping boys, got 9 and finished in fourth place, above two other nations. Luxembourg managed an away draw against former World Champions France.

Besides winning promotion to League C, where you find countries like Scotland and Cyprus, the bottom 16 teams have an extra incentive: one of them is guaranteed a qualifying slot for the UEFA European Championship.

It clearly wouldn’t do for Gibraltar to go into its first fixture in early September lacking fitness as we did at the start of the World Cup campaign last year when we played against Greece before our domestic season had even started. I’m sure that lesson will have been learnt.

Who’ll be the next GSD leader?

Roy Clinton (left) & Keith Azopardi

Politics is a thankless business. Take, as an example, GSD leadership hopeful Roy Clinton.

A successful chartered accountant and banker, he gave up his position as CEO of a locally based private bank two years ago to work full time with the Gibraltar Social Democrats, of which he’s been a member since 1990.

He was thrown in at the deep end during the 2015 general election campaign when his party chose him to debate money matters on television with the formidable Joe Bossano, and was generally regarded to have held his own.

As an opposition member he’s been a constant thorn in the government’s side. Daniel Feetham named him his deputy last March, and when Mr Feetham surprised everyone by stepping down as leader for family reasons in July it was Mr Clinton who stepped into the breach, becoming interim leader as well as leader of the opposition. He donates that portion of the parliamentary salary he receives for being opposition leader to the party.

Some think, certainly his supporters do, that he’s earned the right to lead the GSD.

And yet the odds are against him: the smart money is on his rival, Keith Azopardi QC.

Mr Azopardi served two terms in government with the GSD, the second as deputy leader, but left in 2003 unhappy about its merger with the Labour Party. He later formed the Progressive Democratic Party but wound it up after it made no significant impact with the electorate at either the 2007 or 2011 general elections.

Some felt the PDP had split the opposition vote and possibly cost the GSD the very close 2011 election. Nonetheless the party has welcomed Mr Azopardi back, and its hierarchy now stands poised to support him.

Well-placed sources have indicated to me that a majority of the 25-strong executive committee, who include the party’s five MPs, intend to vote for Mr Azopardi.

Given that the executive’s vote will be weighted to be worth 40% of the value of the total number of votes cast (the other 60% will come from the votes of ordinary members at an Extraordinary General Meeting on 30 November), it would appear that Mr Azopardi already has a head start.

And that’s not all.

Unless he changes his mind, Sir Peter Caruana, the doyen of the GSD, and chief minister from 1996 to 2011, is set to publicly endorse Keith Azopardi’s candidacy.

When I asked Sir Peter to confirm this he would only say that he would be making a statement about the leadership election in due course. But he added that it’s crucial for the GSD to get the choice of leader right. The electorate, he considers, won’t give the party an infinite number of chances. Get it wrong and a third party could emerge to challenge the big beasts of recent years, much as the GSD itself did when it replaced the AACR as the credible alternative to the GSLP.

Roy Clinton’s qualities are recognised and appreciated. But when it comes down to it, the upper echelons of the GSD feel the party will have wider appeal within the community, and therefore a better chance of winning the next election, with Mr Azopardi at the helm. It remains to be seen whether the membership at large agrees.

UPDATE: 2 November 2017

Sir Peter Caruana has today issued a personal statement throwing his weight behind Keith Azopardi’s candidacy. Below are Sir Peter’s full statement, and Roy Clinton’s reply.

Personal Statement by Sir Peter Caruana in relation to the current contest for the leadership of the GSD
Roy Clinton Personal Statement

 

 

Shellshocked

SHELLSHOCKED

I felt rather sorry for the Chinese woman fined £100 by the Magistrate’s Court for collecting three-quarters-of-a-kilo’s worth of an endangered species of limpet found in Gibraltar. She was probably looking forward to a tasty meal, but instead found herself under arrest by Environment Department officers for having breached the Nature Protection Act. According to the Gibraltar Chronicle, the poor lady felt so bad she hasn’t been able to visit any of our beaches since.

I know the lay magistrates who sentenced her were right to state that ignorance of the law, which she claimed, is no excuse. But she would probably not have committed the offence in the first place had there been a notice warning the public that removing the limpets is a crime punishable by a fine of up to ten thousand pounds. (Yes, you read that right).

Such a notice would, arguably, also provide more protection for the limpets themselves.

Most people won’t know that, buried somewhere in an Act that stretches to 195 pages, the patella ferruginea is described as a Specified Wild Animal that must be protected. On the other hand, everyone will understand a sign that states: “Warning – remove the limpets and face a £10,000 fine”.

Thankfully the magistrates in this case applied commonsense and only imposed a modest fine.

Incidentally around 70 Mediterranean Ribbed Limpets, to give the species its more familiar name, were “translocated” three years ago from the area of the new power station at a cost to the taxpayer of £30,000. Just three convictions, with the culprit made to pay the maximum fine, and that sum is fully recovered!

SCOOPED

From molluscs to canines. Well, their poo anyway.

Happily the problem of dog fouling is on the wane in Gibraltar. Legislation and increased social awareness have helped make our streets much cleaner than in bygone years, with owners by and large responsibly cleaning up after their pets.

They could be encouraged further by the adoption of a scheme that’s in place in Prague, where I went on holiday recently. Across the city, in parks and paths popular for dog walking, you’ll find brown paper bags, poop scoop included. They’re free and even have instructions for use printed on them. I’m sure they’d be appreciated at the Botanical Gardens and Commonwealth Park, among other places. How about it Ministry for the Environment?

Whereas dogs can ‘go’ for free in the Czech capital, the same can’t be said for us humans. It costs 10 koruna (around 34p) to use a public toilet, rather more than the proverbial penny.

Seeing as Prague is home to 1.3 million residents as well as one of Europe’s major tourist destinations (7 million visitors last year) I’m pretty sure that one initiative for answering the call of nature more than pays for the other!

On The Buses

Given Gibraltar’s persistent parking problem I frequently rely on the bus to take me home. I live in the upper town, which is serviced by route one.

Buses on this route have seats for only 15 passengers, or 9 on those adapted to take a wheelchair. Often there are more people waiting to get on at the start of the trip than the bus has space for, so it’s not surprising that they jealously guard their place in the queue.

What isn’t right in my view is that less able-bodied passengers should have to stand because others who could easily do so don’t give up their seat. Sometimes it’s just a lack of awareness. I’ve seen groups of schoolchildren so engrossed in their mobile phones they haven’t even noticed the elderly lady with a walking stick who could really use a rest. And, in fairness, many times young people do offer to get up.

What annoys me is grown-ups who actively encourage their children to stay put. The other day a mum, her nose buried in a book, was sat with her two toddlers either side of her on a packed and swelteringly hot bus, pretending not to notice that some of the standing passengers were struggling. The younger child, at least, could easily have sat on his mother’s lap, freeing up one space.

No doubt she believed she was acting in the best interests of her boys by making their ride as comfortable as possible. But, in the long run, wouldn’t they benefit more from learning to be polite and considerate towards others?

There are signs on the number one bus warning people not to smoke, eat or drink on board and asking them to retain their tickets. Indeed, I’m reliably informed that the larger buses used on other routes also have a sign asking that priority be given to passengers with mobility issues. Is it too much to ask that a similar notice be put up on the number one buses where arguably, because there are fewer seats, they’re more necessary?

Staying with the buses I’ve found most drivers to be patient, helpful and good-natured. Much more so than I would be given the situations they have to put up with, from rowdy passengers to motorists who leave their car inappropriately parked with the hazard lights on and expect the bus to squeeze through the narrowest of spaces.

Regrettably though, there are exceptions.

I saw one driver refuse to wait even for a moment while a woman pushed her wheelchair-bound husband from their front door to the bus stop just a few yards up the road. He left them stranded.

Another ticked a passenger off for supposedly not standing in the right place at the Reclamation Road stop. No matter that the bus he was waiting for was hidden by another that was stopped directly in front of it.

This kind of behaviour is unacceptable and the company should take steps to ensure that if there are any bad eggs among them, they don’t contaminate the whole clutch.

RIOT? WHAT RIOT?

Ream upon ream has been written about last Sunday’s independence referendum in Catalonia and the disgraceful actions of the Guardia Civil to try and prevent it from going ahead. I would add just one observation that I think has been largely overlooked.

Police wear riot gear to prevent or control a riot. I followed events closely from early in the morning, and saw nothing to suggest a public order disturbance was about to happen. Certainly none had occurred, the mood was festive and peaceful: the people just wanted to vote. Yet by 9 am the police were already patrolling the streets in their intimidating attire, complete with shields, truncheons and helmets.

Why?

Perhaps they thought their imposing presence would put people off going to vote. But riot gear also ensured their anonymity. With helmets on, no one knew who they were, and they could be as heavy-handed as they liked with complete impunity.

What a contrast with the local Mossos d’Esquadra who, if they wore headgear at all, sported flat caps and berets and were identifiable by all. Three cheers for them, and for the firefighters who bravely formed a barrier between their fellow citizens and the out-of-control agents of the Spanish state.

Heartbroken

(Tom Petty’s official website confirms the sad news)

Just a month after the death of Steely Dan’s Walter Becker another true music ‘great’ has left us. Tom Petty, best known as the leader of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, died suddenly of cardiac arrest at the age of 66.

After more than 40 years in the business he was still churning them out. His last studio album with the Heartbreakers was 2014’s Hypnotic Eye, but his most recent offering was the second LP by Mudcrutch, the name of the band he co-founded in 1970, released last year. He had just completed a US tour with 3 sell-out nights at the Hollywood Bowl.

I discovered Tom Petty relatively late, around 1997 or 1998, when I bought a second-hand copy of Wildflowers, which I still consider one of his best albums. I was instantly hooked.

I lapped up his back catalogue and bought every subsequent CD, not just those with the Heartbreakers, but his solo albums and the two recordings by supergroup The Traveling Wilburys in which he was joined by Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne (of ELO fame), Roy Orbison and George Harrison no less!

I was able to cross out one of the items on my bucket list when my son and I saw the band live in Dublin in 2012, a dream come true. They were magnificent. Needless to say I got the T shirt!

Sadly we’ll never see him perform again, but if you’d like to know more about the man, the band and their music get hold of  Peter Bogdanovich’s excellent 2008 documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream.

The 4-disc set includes the 30th anniversary concert Petty and the Heartbreakers gave in his hometown of Gainesville, Florida in 2006.

Before you do that though, give the playlist below a listen. It’s an hour’s worth of my favourite Tom Petty tracks. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

 

Rest In Peace and thank you Tom, your songs will live forever.