It was on 6 September 2016 that Gibraltar, a territory of 30,000 inhabitants, wrote their name into the football history books. In a 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifier against Greece, Liam Walker netted his country’s first-ever goal in an official, FIFA-recognised competitive match.
Months have passed since he scored that equalising effort in the 26th minute at the Estadio Algarve in Faro, Portugal, but Walker is happy to reminisce. “I’ll never forget it,” he told FIFA.com. “I remember there was a corner that went all the way out to the back post. Our captain Roy Chipolina managed to retain the ball and play it back into the middle. Scott Wiseman got a touch on it and the ball came out to me. I was one-on-one with the left-back and when I saw a gap, I just went for it.” The rest, as they say, is history. “It was obviously a great achievement for me and the team, although unfortunately we conceded those goals before half-time.”
Impressed by Belgium
As Walker alludes to, Gibraltar’s joy would be short-lived, with Greece replying to score three times in the final three minutes of the first half. The UEFA EURO 2004 winners eventually won the game 4-1, but Walker retains fond memories of the occasion. “It was still a great experience and something new. It was like a dream come true for us, it was just amazing. Hopefully there are more to come in the future, but we need to work hard and keep improving.”
Gibraltar, who were only admitted as a FIFA member in May 2016, have since played three more qualifiers. They lost 4-0 and 3-1 to Estonia and Cyprus respectively and went down 6-0 at home to Belgium in what Walker looks back on as a major learning curve. “I think they’re the best side we’ve played,” said the man who plies his trade with Gibraltarian club Europa FC. “We’ve played against Germany and Poland, but Belgium just played brilliantly. Their movement, combined with the top class players they have, was extraordinary. Having said that, we conceded a lot of goals through mistakes of our own making. We need to work on that.”
Aiming for a point
In attempting to punch above their weight, the southern Europeans could do worse than to look at Iceland for inspiration. The Nordic team caused a sensation at UEFA EURO 2016 by reaching the quarter-finals, beating the likes of England and Austria and holding eventual champions Portugal to a draw along the way. In that spirit, Walker believes the expansion of the FIFA World Cup format to 48 teams, starting with the 2026 edition, presents a great chance for smaller nations to make an impression on the big stage, though he also says Gibraltar need to remain realistic. “It would obviously be unbelievable to be there one day, but we still need to develop. We’re such a small country, but anything’s possible.”
Walker began his career in the Spanish lower leagues, before gaining experience abroad with Portsmouth in England and Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv in Israel. Since 2014 he has been playing in Gibraltar’s top tier, moving to Europa in August 2016 following two years at rival club Lincoln Red Imps. He is yet to play in one of Europe’s top leagues, but the 28-year-old with the No10 on his back has not given up on the dream yet.
Any immediate thoughts about his club career must be put to the back of his mind, however, as another huge game for Gibraltar looms large on the horizon. At the end of March, Jeff Wood’s charges take on a Bosnia and Herzegovina outfit boasting the likes of world-class talents Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic. “We want to get better with every game and our goal in the campaign is to get at least one point,” said Walker. “If we can do that, we’ll have cause for celebration. That might sound strange that it’s only one point, but for us that would be another step in the right direction.”