Roy Chipolina interview: Thoughts on all things Gibraltar!
Ahead of Gibraltar’s 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Belgium and Bosnia and Herzegovina, their national captain Roy Chipolina kindly took the time out to share his exclusive thoughts with FootyOn’s Sam Barnard.
Chipolina has proudly skippered the side ever since they became members of UEFA in 2013, and then FIFA three years later, and is still going strong aged 34.
In that time for oversees British territory Gibraltar, the centre back has led them to a first official win and three draws against established footballing nations, despite the majority of his team being amateur players with full-time jobs – himself included.
He has also come up against some of the best players in the world over the years – particularly at international level – such as Robert Lewandowski, Eden Hazard, Toni Kroos and Manuel Neuer.
Other achievements for Chipolina include winning Gold at the 2007 Island Games with Gibraltar, and captaining his club Lincoln Red Imps to a historic 1-0 home leg victory over former European Cup winners Celtic in Champions League qualifying last season.
Although brought up, and with family, in Gibraltar, Chipolina was actually born in Enfield, England, and had trials with Luton Town and Leyton Orient in his youth.
We ask him about much of the above and other experiences in his intriguing career so far, as well as the future of football in Gibraltar and exciting developments on the Rock.
So, read on for our exclusive Roy Chipolina interview…
Congratulations on your latest call-up to the national squad. You’ve been captain ever since Gibraltar’s first official match. How does it feel to be able to lead out your team every game?
As an individual it is my proudest achievement in football and it is important I take on the responsibility of leading by example both on and off the pitch.
We have a great group of players who all work very hard for each other and are what we represent, and it’s the greatest honour to be able to lead them out.
I still feel as proud and get as excited as I did the first time I wore the Gibraltar jersey.
How does your approach to internationals differ to club football, where your team Lincoln Red Imps win the majority of matches?
We go from being the dominant team domestically, where we dictate the game and keep the majority of possession, to having our roles reversed and becoming the dominated team internationally.
It is to be expected when you are playing against some of the best players in Europe. But we aim to take away as many positives as possible, learn and progress.
When you last played against Belgium, you came up against nine Premier League players. What is it like to face players of such standards?
It is very hard. The jump from our domestic league to the international stage is huge, both from an individual and team perspective.
We are up against trained athletes who live, eat and breathe football. They have the best of everything available to them.
Add that most have mainly been brought up through football academies with the best coaching, and you have a mix of all the best attributes rolled into one.
Christian Benteke got a hat-trick in that match. How does he compare to other strikers you’ve marked at international level? And who is the toughest player you’ve faced?
He is a force. He is physically very strong with the obvious eye for goal, as he unfortunately showed against us, and he’s also proved it in the Premier League.
I have had the honour and privilege to play against some of the best teams like Germany, Portugal and Belgium, and some big name players.
My standout player would have to be Robert Lewandowski. Without being too harsh on myself, he was just unplayable.
Till this day my mates remind me in more detail of his performances against us.
You face the prospect of going up against in-form new Man Utd signing Romelu Lukaku this time. Do you have any special plans for him?
He’s another fantastic player who has started with a bang at Manchester United, but Belgium has a stunning team full of top class players. It would be very naive of us to only concentrate on any one individual.
Going by our previous match against them, it is Belgium’s movement and the pace they are able to move the ball at that makes them one of the finest teams at international level.
With four games left of the World Cup qualifying campaign to go, do you believe Gibraltar can gain their first competitive point from them? Or is it perhaps too soon at this stage?
We are craving that illustrious first competitive point and we came very close to achieving it against Cyprus, but it wasn’t to be.
We are showing signs of improvement and in many games have done ourselves justice in parts.
Unfortunately, due to the demands of the level we are playing at, we fail to hold concentration throughout the entire 90 minutes and are punished for that.
Gibraltar’s rise in football has been remarkable, despite their small population. What is your proudest footballing moment to date in their short history?
I have had some amazing moments – from playing the world champions Germany in Nuremberg in front of over 40,000 spectators, where most were predicting a cricket score and Gibraltar giving a very respectable account of ourselves despite losing 4-0, to being part of the team that silenced Hampden Park (even if it was for a moment) when Lee Casciaro scored our equaliser.
But I would have to say playing here in Gibraltar, in front of a packed Victoria Stadium for Lincoln Red Imps v Celtic in a Champions League qualifier and against all odds beating them 1-0.
The unbelievable, surreal scenes after the match will stay with me forever.
Will the likes of Liam Walker going over to play in England (Notts County) further help Gibraltar? And do you have any regrets not playing in England yourself?
I hope that Liam playing in England will give the young boys in Gibraltar that push to knowing that a local lad can do it abroad, and also for clubs to take note that there is talent in Gibraltar and we hope that some of our lads are given more opportunities.
There is a lot of raw talent in Gibraltar. I just wish more clubs take a chance on some of our players. I am sure with the right coaching they could be moulded into a professional player.
Personally, I do question ‘what if I had stayed in England a little longer and tried out in the lower leagues?’ But the opportunities provided to our youth today were not available back then and getting a trial was close to impossible.
But I can’t complain. I have had some of the most surreal and incredible experiences in football and can say to some extent I have lived my boyhood dream.
What are your thoughts on the plans to redevelop the Victoria Stadium, and build new sporting facilities in Gibraltar, which will mean international and continental club football will be able to be played on the Rock?
I think it is fantastic that the go-ahead has finally been given for this much-needed development. It will bring football back to Gibraltar.
Since we have joined UEFA/FIFA, we haven’t had the privilege to play in front of a packed Victoria Stadium.
Our support here in Gibraltar is so strong that I believe if the home matches in the qualifying campaigns had been held here we would have got points on the board. I have no doubt about that.
Does the future look even brighter for Gibraltar football? What would you personally like to see happen to ensure further progression?
Fortunately, becoming a member of UEFA and FIFA has had a huge effect on football in Gibraltar. Due to the financial gain, it has opened up many avenues.
Though, it is extremely important that these avenues are kept for our youth and not just given away to the business that is football today.
After all, the reason for gaining UEFA and FIFA membership was for our youth to flourish and progress. I would like to see more of this and not the usual talk about finances.
Being a customs officer in Gibraltar, how do you balance football and work?
It is very hard to balance family, football and work, but I have the necessary support from my wife as well as that of my club Lincoln, who help me balance the workload.
Do you have any plans yet for after retiring?
I do hope to go into coaching/management one day, but for now I am only concentrating on playing. I still have a hunger and desire to continue.
As a boy, I only dreamt about the opportunities and experiences I am living, and I want to make them last for as long as I can.
Roy Chipolina factfile
Date of birth: 20/01/83 (age 34)
Place of birth: Enfield, England
Favourite club growing up: Arsenal
Footballing heroes: Ian Wright, Matt Le Tissier, Thierry Henry
Best footballers/teams played against: Robert Lewandowski, Belgium national team, Germany World Cup winning national team, Portugal Euros winning national team
Best footballers played with: Colin Ramirez and Lee Casciaro
Best friends in football: Throughout my career I have had a few. Many who have retired now. Matthew ‘Robocop’ Reoch and ex-national team captain Daniel Duarte. Casciaro brothers (Lee, Kyle and Ryan), Aaron Payas and JC Garcia. I’m sure I have left one or two out
Best stadiums played in: Celtic Park, Hampden Park, Aviva Stadium, Grundig Stadion (Nuremberg), PGE Narodowy (Warsaw)
Desired international opponents: England
Football superstitions: None
Interests outside of football: Between work and football, my spare time is spent with my family
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