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Thursday, May 23, 2013


What could turn out to be arguably the most important day in the history of football in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar is fast approaching, a day which could see the Gibraltar Football Association finally become the 54th member of UEFA. UEFA's annual Congress takes place in London on 24/5/13, the day before a German invasion of London by Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund fans, all heading to Wembley for the Champions League final, takes shape.

There will be a number of matters up for discussion at the Congress, but the one which Pat's Football Blog is concentrating on is the GFA's second attempt - via a vote - to obtain UEFA membership. The previous attempt in 2007 ended in failure, with only the associations of Ireland, Scotland and Wales - not England, apparently - supporting their application after the Spanish FA (RFEF) threw everything, kitchen sink and a threat to leave UEFA included, in the way of the GFA's application.

This time around, the GFA have done much the same, but unlike the RFEF and the Spanish government in 2007 (and now) have put their argument forward in a much more civilised way, employing all forms of social media to help get their message across. An exhibition, Faces of Gibraltar Football, is still ongoing in Gibraltar town, and it features photographs of those involved in football, young and old, representing the past, present and future of the local game, on the isthmus.Team 54, meanwhile, is the focal point for support of the GFA bid, both in Facebook and in website form.

Among those involved in a literally more physical manner is the Gibraltar national team manager, 48-year-old Allen Bula. Bula has often been the focal point of the GFA's second application for UEFA membership, but the question many observers are asking is: Just who is Allen Bula?

Well, Allen Bula, born on 4/1/65 in Gibraltar, played for several local clubs in his youth, beginning at St. Jago's, then moving to what was then the Manchester United Supporters' Club side, before moving on to play for some of the most famous names in Gibraltarian football: Gibraltar United, St. Joseph's and Glacis United. He also represented Gibraltar at all levels from Under-15 to Under-21 inclusive.

He cites the two highlights of his footballing career as representing Gibraltar at an Under-15 tournament in the USA, where Gibraltar thrashed their hosts 7:0, and being in the Gib side which defeated West Germany 2:1 during an Under-20 tournament in Ipswich, England.

Bula had a promising future until a serious injury cut short his career at 22, the moment which he describes, not unnaturally, as being the lowest point of his career in football.

Undaunted, Bula remained active in Gibraltarian football in a coaching capacity, and also picked up a Management diploma whist in college in England. Whilst in England, he took up the Under-17 team-manager's position at non-league Dover Rangers in 2001 before moving to near-neighbours Dover Athletic a year later to take over their Under-17 side. He then manged Athletic's Under-18 team before taking a most unlikely career-move in 2004.

Instead of perhaps moving up the English football pyramid, he moved to Slovakia to take over the role of Academy Manager at FC Steel Trans Ličartovce (renamed MFK Košice in 2005) at the end of the 2003-04 season. The club was in a state of flux, having been relegated from the top division and more or less bankrupted whilst under previous ownership and the name 1.FC Košice. Bula was ultimately responsible for the welfare of more than 400 youngsters, who were supervised by some 24 coaches. 

He became Head of Football Development at MFK in 2006; under his direction, a number of MFK players were transferred abroad, and English fans will no doubt recognise the names Nemanja Matic and Albert Rusnak, who were respectively transferred to Chelsea and Manchester City between 2006 and Bula's departure from the post in 2010.

The year before, in 2009, he was approached by the GFA to take up the vacant post of national team manager; let's face it, who would baulk at the opportunity to manage their own national team?  In his own words: "MFK Košice gave me permission to manage the national team, which I used to fly backwards and forwards on a regular basis. In 2011 I left MFK Košice to take up the position full-time with the [Gibraltar] national team."

As those who have been watching the Gibraltar situation with a keen eye will know, steady progress has been made with regard to the national team over the past few years, from the Gibraltar team winning the Island Games tournament in Rhodes in 2007 to the national team's comprehensive 3:0 defeat of the Faroe Islands in 2011.

Pat's Football Blog asked Bula whether the national team has improved over the past 15 years, and what have been the most important factors in any improvement. His answer was short and to the point: "Yes, it has. The fully professional approach in the past 3 years is the most important factor to the success the national team has had. [There is a technical team of 24 people assisting in all areas of football in Gibraltar], all of whom are unpaid at present."

With a quick nod ahead to the future of football in Gibraltar, Bula was asked whether there were any talented players in the senior and underage squads who were definitely names to look out for in the future. His reply could well make very interesting reading for any scouts who may wander across this article:

"The national "A" team has many players which can still be snapped up by professional clubs, and they will show their quality in Euro 2016 qualifiers. Young starlets to look out for include defensive midfielder Jack Sergeant (17), attacking midfielder Alain Pons (17), left-back Lee Coombes (16), striker Lython Marquez (18),attacking midfielder Daylan Victor (16) and defensive midfielder Ethan Jolley (15), to name a few."

Moving on to the impending UEFA vote on GFA membership, Bula, who will be attending the UEFA Congress in London together with the 10 GFA Council members, was asked as to how he saw the future of football in Gibraltar, taking into consideration how said vote would go:

"It [membership of UEFA] will be a massive step forward in the right direction, but there is still lots of hard work to be done. The main thing is that everyone pulls in the same direction of development. All national teams must work in the same structure and philosophy as that of the senior team. All of our coaches need to develop their skills to the highest levels. But, most importantly, that for a small nation there can never be the war that big nations have of club v country."

Finally, the question was asked of Bula's own hopes for the future, and his answer is a telling one: "It's difficult to say as the future of Gibraltar football is in the hands of UEFA members, and the vote will determine what future there is."

It will indeed, but any vote against the Gibraltar Football Association's inclusion in the ranks of UEFA membership would surely be a travesty, seeing as the CAS have already recommended that the way be paved for full GFA membership of UEFA. After all, the GFA, created in 1895, has its own footballing history, is much older than the RFEF, and to exclude it on the grounds of pure politics would indeed be wrong, not just with regard to those such as Bula, who has led the GFA charge for membership with a degree of passionate dignity lacking on the side of the RFEF, and to those who have gone before him, both on and off the pitch, but to those who will follow him. This coming Friday will tell its own tale. One hopes that, for Bula and the GFA at least, it will have a happy ending. It would not be before time.