By Fiona Govan
"One day he could play for Gibraltar," Norman Apap said proudly as his 14-year-old son, Javagn, scored a third goal for his football team."Unless they get their way, of course," Mr Apap added, tipping his head towards Spain, in plain view of Victoria Stadium, which sits on one of the few flat pieces of land on the Rock.
For years, Gibraltar, population 30,000, has been trying to join Uefa, the governing body of European football.
It has faced opposition from Spain, which fears that its claims over the disputed British territory will be undermined if it is accepted as a footballing "nation".
This month, following nine years of petitioning and several court cases, Uefa accepted the Gibraltar Football Association as a provisional member. A decision will be taken on whether to admit it as a full member by Uefa's congress next month.
"It has been an uphill struggle," said Joey Nuñez, the chairman of the GFA. "And we are far from confident that we will be accepted.
"Spain is very powerful in terms of football and it seems unlikely that the other football associations will stand up to them. There is too much money at stake.
"We just ask that our application be considered on sporting terms and that politics be left out of the situation."
Gibraltar was seized by the British in 1704 with the Spanish ceding sovereignty in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht. But Spain has retained a constitutional claim and calls for its return.
Spain is also concerned that Gibraltar's acceptance would strengthen the arguments of Spain's own autonomous regions, such as the Basque Country and Catalonia, for their own "national" teams.
But Mr Nuñez believes that Gibraltarians are being victimised and their human rights denied.
"I fail to see why a treaty made 300 years ago should hamper the aspirations of our youth and prevent them from developing and improving their talents," he said.
"Scotland and Wales are allowed their own teams, and even the Faroe Islands [a Danish protectorate] has been a member of Uefa since 1988. So why can't we?
"The whole ethos of Uefa and why it was created is to promote football in the four corners of Europe. Whether Spain like it or not, we are one of those corners."
Mr Nuñez said he felt abandoned by the English football authorities, which had offered no support to Gibraltar's bid to join Uefa and that, instead, the territory had faced ridicule for wanting to play with the "big boys".
The Spanish Government issued an edict in 1985 instructing its sports federations not to participate in competitions in which Gibraltar was represented.
The Spanish Football Federation has threatened to pull their teams out of competitions such as the Champions League if Gibraltar becomes a Uefa member.Despite their enthusiasm for the game – there are 31 registered amateur teams and more than 80 junior teams in Gibraltar – development is hampered as they are unable to represent Gibraltar outside the territory.
"There is only so far a player can go when they are forced to compete against the same teams," said Joey Catania, the joint coach of Gibraltar United's under-13 team, which is top of its league.
Richard Manning, the chairman of Gibraltar's Junior League, said: "It is disgusting that Uefa may not accept us for purely political reasons."
For Gibraltarians, the struggle for recognition on the football field comes as no surprise. "We are supposed to be enjoying friendly relations with Spain now," Vince Kenny, the former manager of the "national" team, said in reference to an agreement between Spain, Britain and Gibraltar to ease restrictions on the Rock. "But it is clear that they will never accept us on equal terms."Visit our ARCHIVES section for previous posts or use the SEARCH tool for specific items.