Gibraltar’s magnificent results on the football pitch this month got me thinking about the battles that had to be won off it before our national team could take part in competitions like this year’s inaugural UEFA Nations League. It took 16 years and four cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) for the Gibraltar Football Association to be admitted as a full member of Europe’s governing body in 2013 and another three years before it gained entry to FIFA.
On both occasions the chief minister, Fabian Picardo, praised Attorney General and GFA president Michael Llamas QC for his crucial work. After the 2-1 win against Liechtenstein Mr Picardo tweeted:
“Incredible & inspiring GFA result tonight at home in #Gibraltar. When you see our children dreaming the #GFA football dream & celebrating the goals and the win, all that long battle for membership of UEFA & FIFA led by Michael Llamas is so worth it!”
Undoubtedly Michael, whom I’ve known since childhood when our families pitched their tents in the same patch of Eastern Beach, was a key figure in Gibraltar’s legal struggles. But I’m sure he’d be the first to acknowledge the role played by our mutual friend, and past GFA president, Joey Nuñez. In reply to the mentioned chief minister’s tweet I described the self-effacing Mr Nuñez (hence no photo) as the “unsung hero of our success” and that is what I believe he is.
The GFA, with Andrew Perera as president, first applied to join FIFA in 1991, but that bid was rejected out of hand. In January 1997 the GFA Council applied again and it was left to Mr Nuñez, who succeeded Mr Perera that summer, to prepare and file the report in support of the application. A barrister by profession, one of his first acts was to redraft the GFA Statutes to make them compatible with FIFA requirements.
It soon became apparent to him that this was not to be an easy ride. FIFA said the GFA would first have to be admitted into UEFA where Spain, an influential member, would do everything in its power to thwart the bid. For four years Mr Nuñez lobbied, attended meetings, wrote letters and reports, gave presentations and did everything in his power to secure UEFA membership for the GFA. As he told CAS in November 2002 in the first of several witness statements to the court: “I have (since October 1997) been the person within the GFA who, at all times, has had control and conduct of the GFA’s applications for FIFA and UEFA”.
At a meeting at UEFA’s offices in Nyon, Switzerland in October 2001 Mr Nuñez says he and GFA Secretary Albert Buhagiar were repeatedly told, “that the GFA’s application for membership was dead … because of the political connotations of the GFA’s case and the political pressure placed on UEFA”.
That’s when Mr Nuñez concluded that the GFA had been left with no alternative but to commence legal proceedings against UEFA, “in order to safeguard its rights and interests … and in order to protect the future development of the sport in Gibraltar”. He approached the GSD government for financial support and was told to get the best legal representation possible to plead Gibraltar’s case. Mr Nuñez obliged, engaging the services of eminent barrister Michael Beloff QC of Blackstone Chambers, London, whom Legal 500 described as “The Godfather of Sports Law”. Mr Nuñez continued to work closely with Mr Beloff and his associate Adam Lewis QC throughout.
The rest, as they say, is history. The GFA was finally granted full membership of UEFA on 24 May 2013 and FIFA on 13 May 2016. Since then Gibraltar has taken part in qualifying campaigns for the European Championships and the World Cup, as well as the Nations League with the thrilling victories against Armenia and Liechtenstein. Local club sides have participated in the qualifying rounds of the Europa and Champions Leagues (who can forget Lincoln Red Imps’ famous 1-0 defeat of Celtic in 2016?).
We now have our stars: Lee Casciaro who got that goal against Celtic, national coach Julio Ribas, Kyle Goldwin and his heroics in goal, the inspiring captaincy of Roy Chipolina.
Yet none of them would have had the opportunity to shine had it not been for the dedication, courage and tenacity demonstrated by Joey Nuñez at a time, all those years ago, when the notion of Gibraltar playing competitively against the likes of Germany and Belgium would have been little more than a pipe dream. It’s high time our unsung hero’s contribution was officially recognised.