Archive for June, 2014



For most countries, a total of one point and one goal scored from five games would represent nothing but complete disaster. However, American Samoa are not most countries, and the spirited performances of the islands’ youngsters at the recent Oceania under-20 Championship in Fiji have offered hope for the team’s future – not least due to the emergence of promising forward Ryan Paaga.

The American Samoans’ performances and results in their opening two games will have particularly pleased coach Rupeni Luvu, providing hope that Thomas Rongen’s legacy with the senior team, one of higher professionalism and fitness levels that led to the team almost emerging from their preliminary qualifying group for the World Cup, can be replicated by all of the islands’ teams. Luvu’s boys kicked off the tournament in the Fijian capital with a 4-0 defeat, against the hosts and eventual winners, all the goals coming in the first half. Fiji would go on to qualify for the FIFA under-20 World Cup finals (with New Zealand automatically qualifying as hosts), making this result seem almost respectable.

However, very few would have foreseen American Samoa holding Papua New Guinea, coached by Oceania Footballer of the Century Wynton Rufer, to a draw two days later. The underdogs drew first blood through Sinisa Tua in first-half stoppage time, but they could well have had a penalty after just five minutes when Paaga went down under PNG goalkeeper Koniel Vagi’s challenge after racing through on goal. PNG’s blushes were somewhat spared by Frederick Simongi’s equaliser on the hour but despite having Rafael Rocha sent off late on for scrapping with a PNG substitute, American Samoa held on for a historic result: it is the first time they have avoided defeat in an under-20 game.

Keeper Maiava leads the team's pre-game huddle (pic: Brian Vitolio)

Keeper Maiava leads the team’s pre-game huddle (pic: Brian Vitolio)

Unfortunately, Luvu’s charges ran out of steam somewhat in the second half of the tournament, going down 4-0 to Vanuatu on 27th May and 5-0 to the Solomon Islands two days after that, although two of the Solomons’ goals were scored in the last 15  minutes. In their final game against New Caledonia, American Samoa were thrashed 9-0, though five of those goals were leaked in the second half as tiredness kicked in. That result may taint the success of the Papua New Guinea game, but it is clear that progress has been made: with the portly but likable Frederick Maiava between the posts, the under-20s set a national record for the longest time without conceding – 103 minutes across the second half of the Fiji game and the first hour against PNG.

Ryan Paaga epitomises this progress as much as anyone. Athletically gifted and with the raw skill to trouble defences, Paaga was American Samoa’s biggest goal threat throughout the tournament and can consider himself unfortunate not to have returned home with a first international goal to his name. If promising sportsmen like Paaga offer the biggest opportunity to the Football Federation American Samoa (FFAS), they also represent the biggest threat. The seventeen-year-old is equally gifted at rugby sevens and it is clear that the FFAS will have to do battle with the islands’ other sports federations to secure his services for future internationals.

Indeed, Paaga says the FFAS wasted little time in drafting him into the squad for Fiji upon his return from a  rugby tournament in Hong Kong, but he regrets that his sporting versatility makes it difficult to focus on one code in particular: “When I came back from Hong Kong the soccer federation contacted me to select me for this team…[I’ve] never really played soccer much…it’s tough for me because so many people want me to play rugby for their team, so I don’t get time to practice my soccer skills as much.”

Paaga has attracted interest from Samoan media for his American football exploits (pic: Samoa News)

Paaga has attracted interest from Samoan media for his American football exploits (pic: Samoa News)

Aside from the impressiveness of Paaga performing the most difficult role at the tournament – lone striker in a team that often strings every other outfield player across their own penalty area – so admirably, it shows that the FFAS faces almost a sporting cannibalism from the islands’ other governing bodies. Last year fellow forward and then-seventeen-year-old Shalom Luani starred as the senior team claimed their first ever international win, a 2-1 success over Tonga, and Luani’s two goals in the three-game World Cup qualifying series made him the country’s joint-top all-time scorer. The parallels to Paaga are uncanny, and Luani’s time is similarly divided between football and American football, though recently it seems the second sport is dominating his engagements.

Luani moved to Chabot College of California in 2012 and Paaga has also admitted his desire to win a scholarship to the U.S. mainland. Though it would be wrong to stand in the youngsters’ way as they seek to further their careers in a more competitive environment, the diaspora of the islands’ talent represents a big headache for the FFAS; getting players back from the mainland to play in friendlies or qualifiers is difficult financially and logistically.

For now at least, Luvu and FFAS chairman Tavita Taumua will be pleased that the leaps achieved by Rongen are now being replicated at youth levels. A  pairing of Paaga and Luani in attack would trouble any defence in the region and, with a blend of experience and promise behind them, is surely the way forward. It will be years before American Samoa can truly challenge for World Cup qualification, but if regular games are scheduled, and if the FFAS can promote football above the islands’ other sports, the 31-0 loss to Australia in 2001 that has haunted this team for so long can finally be consigned to the history books.

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They celebrated in the streets of Gibraltar when the national team was finally admitted to UEFA. There may be only 30,000 people living on the Rock, but it felt like every one of them had descended into the narrow streets and the main square as young and old, player and fan stood side by side, almost all bedecked in the team’s red and white strip as the music blared and the confetti fell.

For all involved it marked a happy end to a prolonged, tiresome struggle for international recognition that began in 1999 when the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) made its initial application to UEFA. 13 years of Gibraltarian frustration, UEFA backtracking, referrals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Spanish stubbornness followed, with Gibraltar’s neighbours threatening to pull out of international competition if UEFA welcomed the territory into Europe’s footballing fold.

There’s a huge irony in the fact that it took Gibraltar – with a football association formed in 1895, easily predating those of Spain, France and Germany, amongst others – so long to be officially recognised when they have one of Europe’s longest football histories. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Rock welcomed several Spanish clubs, the pinnacle being a famous 2-2 draw with Real Madrid in 1949.

The battle at times seemed so hopeless that some could have been forgiven for believing they would never see the day when UEFA finally relented and admitted Gibraltar. Indeed, as recently as 2007, Steve Menary, after chronicling Gibraltar’s lengthy application process in his book Outcasts! The Lands That FIFA Forgot, concluded: “Spain, it seems, has won again and Gibraltar will not be allowed in.”

Gibraltarians take to the streets to celebrate UEFA acceptance

Gibraltarians take to the streets to celebrate UEFA acceptance

 

Yet, in May 2013, after the Court of Arbitration for Sport had twice ruled in the GFA’s favour, Gibraltar’s provisional UEFA membership was ratified and they became Europe’s governing body’s 54th member. There is still understandable frustration at the ridiculous length of time it took for admission to be granted and the petty politics that complicated the process, but the overriding feeling in Gibraltar is one of elation at the chance to compete against the continent’s finest in the coming years.

Bursting onto the international scene in 2001, current captain Roy Chipolina has seen it all from up close. Announcing his arrival in the Gibraltar side with a brace on debut against the Orkney Islands at the Island Games aged 17, the defender soon established himself as a vital cog in the Rock’s team. In 2007, he was part of the side that took gold at the 2007 Island Games, and four years later he scored in the impressive 3-0 win over the Faroe Islands, themselves members of FIFA since 1988, which proved to the world that Gibraltar was capable of competing on a bigger stage. In January 2013, he even represented his homeland in the Futsal Euro qualifiers, scoring in a dramatic 7-5 defeat of San Marino. There are, therefore, few people better qualified to comment on the territory’s bitter struggle for international recognition.

Indeed, it was Chipolina who led the team out for their first UEFA-sanctioned friendly against Slovakia in November, when 500 Gibraltarians made the 250 mile trek to Faro, Portugal (Gibraltar’s Victoria Stadium deemed unfit by UEFA) to witness a superb 0-0 draw. Chipolina, partnering Danny Higginbotham in the heart of defence, was reported by Eurosport to have delivered a rousing speech after hearing Gibraltar’s national anthem played “for the first time at the highest level.”

Coach Allen Bula has wasted little time in supplementing a mainly local-based squad with talent from abroad. Gibraltar have already enlisted the help of several current or ex-professionals, including Danny Higginbotham (now retired from club football but formerly of Manchester United, Southampton and Stoke City), Preston North End full-back Scott Wiseman, Wrexham defender David Artell, and midfielder Liam Walker, who recently joined Israeli outfit Bnei Yehuda after leaving Portsmouth. Bula has left no stone unturned in his search for eligible players, with forwards Adam Priestley and Reece Styche plucked from Farsley AFC (of the Northern Premier League Division One North) and Forest Green Rovers’ reserves respectively.

Yet Chipolina maintains that some of the national team’s home-based players are equally gifted: he has previously said veteran striker Lee Casciaro and midfielders Joseph Chipolina (a distant relative) and Brian Perez are capable of playing at a professional level. For Joseph Chipolina, comfortable either at left-back or as a winger, this seems particularly plausible: last year the 26-year-old impressed in a week-long trial at Leyton Orient, as well as attracting interest from Livingston.

Roy also believes Anthony Hernandez, who scored on his international debut against the Faroes aged just 16, and has already spent time on trial at Middlesbrough, is one to watch in the future. There are parallels to be drawn with Gibraltar’s last wonderkid, defender Jason Pusey, who signed a 3-year contract with Atlético Madrid after finishing his GCSEs in 2006, yet faded into obscurity and has now returned to local football on the Rock.

The hopes are that Hernandez, unlike Pusey, will now have a chance to develop on an international stage with regular, competitive games; Menary’s depressing footnote in 2007 that “any idea that Jason Pusey may have of pursuing an international career with the place that he grew up in are dead” is thankfully no longer applicable to Hernandez.

Chipolina (far left) during celebrations in the main square

Chipolina (far left) during celebrations in the main square

Despite being drawn in a tough group for Euro 2016, including Germany, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, you get the impression that Chipolina and his team-mates fear no-one. The defender, a customs officer for the government for over a decade, will be looking to make sure Gibraltar give their opponents a thorough interrogation no matter how many star names are in their team.

I was recently fortunate enough to have the chance to put some questions to Roy, and the captain proved very accommodating – as his answers demonstrate.

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How important was it to finally be admitted to UEFA after decades of trying and how elated were the players?

For Gibraltar being admitted into UEFA was nothing more than making a dream a reality!  It was a very emotional and jubilant day.  After such a long battle which began way back in the mid-1990s Gibraltar has become the well deserved 54th member in UEFA.  For us, the players, the opportunities that come with being in UEFA are huge and we are just glad to be part of it.

 How special was it to be the first man to captain Gibraltar in an official UEFA game?

It was a great honour and the proudest moment of my football career to lead my country out into our first international match.  It was a very emotional day and one that I will cherish forever.

Is it true that you gave a rousing speech in the dressing room before the Slovakia game and if so, what did you say?

No, not really.  We are a very close bunch and with Gibraltar being so small, most of us have played alongside each other from a very young age.  We are like a family.  The senior players, most notably Al Greene, Daniel Duarte and myself, are usually going around motivating the rest of the team before a match but as you can imagine the team didn’t need much motivation for this match.  We had been waiting many years for this moment.  The whole squad knew how much this match meant not just to us but to the whole of Gibraltar!  We usually rally together just before kick off and this is what we shared before kick off.

What was the atmosphere like in the dressing room after the draw with Slovakia? The players must have been delighted with the result.

The atmosphere was electric and the team was buzzing.  It was very emotional not only for the players but the backroom staff too.  Just being able to represent your country in an official international friendly was a dream for all of us but to get a draw against such a respected footballing nation like Slovakia in our first match was surreal.  Well, let’s just say, it felt like a victory!

Roy (shirtless) shows his passion

Roy (shirtless) shows his passion

Which language is used in team talks and in the dressing room? Do most players speak both English and Spanish?

Our main language is English but most of us can speak English and Spanish fluently. Our team talks are always done in English but we tend to speak our own dialect which is actually a mixture of English and Spanish (Llanito). People are usually amazed when hearing us talk as we jump from English to Spanish within the same sentence at the blink of an eyelid.  It’s unique.

What is the team’s relationship with the community like? Do you think the bond with the public of Gibraltar is stronger because of the small population and your underdog status?

Being that our population is just 30,000 the team’s relationship with the community is a special one, and I think one which isn’t matched by any other nation. It’s as if they are part of the team. We are such a small community that you literally know everyone. Add in that football is followed religiously here in Gibraltar and you get some tremendous support. Though we are considered underdogs I can assure you that the expectations of the people in Gibraltar are very high.

You may not have drawn them for Euro 2016, but how special would it be to play against England?

Being that England is the nation I have supported and the league I have followed since I was a young boy it would be a dream to step out at Wembley and face the mighty England.  It’s every boy’s dream to play at Wembley and I am no different.

Did you agree with UEFA’s decision to keep Spain and Gibraltar apart for the Euro 2016 draw?

I will leave any political issues to the politicians.  I am just extremely happy that UEFA has finally given me the same opportunity as all the other 53 members, and that is, to be able to represent my country on the international stage.

Does having to play ‘home’ games in Portugal somewhat negate home advantage? What are the chances of being able to play home games in Gibraltar in the future?

At a press conference with manager Allen Bula

At a press conference with manager Allen Bula

I suppose it does.  The following we get in Portugal won’t be as much as if games were to be held here in Gibraltar but after our great experience in Portugal and the warm welcome we received by its people I am sure it won’t be long before we make Portugal our home from home.

There are plans to begin the construction of a new stadium at Europa Point. It’s a three-year project and I envisage that if everything goes according to plan, we should be able to use the facilities of the new stadium for the next round of World Cup qualifiers, provided we are given the awesome privilege of becoming FIFA members by then.  This indeed would be the icing on the cake! You can watch a video on YouTube called ‘Europa Point Stadium’ which gives a good insight.

How long do you plan to continue playing? Do you have any plans for post-retirement?

At the moment I would like to concentrate on playing for the Gibraltar national team for as long as possible.  I have no plans of hanging up my boots any time soon but I do hope that in the future I am able to attain my coaching badges so that I am able to carry on being a part of the building and improving football on the Rock.


[Note: interview originally conducted in 2012]

Franziska Klingelfuss may not be a household name, even in her native Switzerland, but the experienced goalkeeper has both benefitted from, and contributed to, the women’s game in Switzerland during a distinguished 14-year playing career.

The fact that Franziska played in the male youth team of second-tier side FC Aarau – a club who count former Chelsea Champions League-winning boss Roberto Di Matteo, ex-Middlesbrough defender Emanuel Pogatetz and Oceania Footballer of the Century Wynton Rufer among their former players – until her teenage years could be counted as both an advantage and disadvantage to her career. On the one hand, often being the only girl on the pitch in a testosterone-fuelled sport highlighted the difference between Franziska and her team-mates and could have made it hard to fit in – but the confidence gained from proving herself  as good as, and better than, many of her male counterparts was surely invaluable.

Unsurprisingly, recognition from further afield followed: in 1996, she was selected for the under-16 Aargau regional team, representing the canton’s population of 600,000; two years later, Franziska progressed to the Swiss under-18  women’s national team – a huge achievement given she was plying her trade far down the Swiss league ladder at the time.

At Schlieren in 2006-07 (photo: fussball-fussball.ch)

At Schlieren in 2006-07 (photo: fussball-fussball.ch)

Although her practical inability to move to a top-flight women’s club – deemed necessary in order to progress further in the Swiss FA youth setup – unfortunately ended her national team career in 1998, Franziska went on to enjoy a successful career that began at Aarau and also took in two spells at FC Baden as well as stints at FC Schlieren, FC Domat-Ems and CB Laax.

A persistent and painful back injury has limited her playing time in recent years – the goalkeeper has been without a club since 2010, but, having looked into back treatment, Franziska refuses to throw in the towel: she is yet to officially retire, and with luck, will soon be back on the field.

Klingelfuss has taken advantage of that spell on the sidelines to further a promising coaching career that began in 2001 as the goalkeeper coach for SC Schöftland’s 8-16 year olds. Franziska has since passed on her expertise to the new generation of Swiss footballers in a number of roles, including training youngsters at the annual FC Aarau football camp, and helping local girls by coaching Aargau’s under-14 regional team.

2004 was the exception to this rule as Franziska took up a role as match reporter and commentator for third division men’s team FC Gränichen, but she has since returned to coaching by helping to nurture FC Aarau’s 5-7 year old “Brügglikids”.

Modest and thoughtful in equal measure, Franziska offers a fascinating insight into the life of a female footballer in Switzerland; although the women’s game has improved in recent years, it still has some way to go.

NAME: Franziska Klingelfuss

POSITION: Goalkeeper

COUNTRY: Switzerland

CLUBS: 1996-98 – FC Aarau; 1998-01 – FC Baden; 2001-04 – FC Aarau; 2004-05 – FC Baden; 2005-07 – FC Schlieren; 2007-09 – FC Domat-Ems; 2009-10 – CB Laax.

 

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What was the best moment of your career, either playing for a club or the Swiss under-18 team?

To play in the Swiss under-18 team was great – I was 16 and playing in the lowest women’s league in Switzerland at the time. Normally only the players from the Nationalliga A [Swiss top flight] and maybe sometimes from the Nationalliga B [second division] get a call-up, so I was very proud, although it was just for one year.

Then the coach from the Swiss under-18 team told me that I needed to move to a club in a better league to stay in the under-18 team. It was hard for me, but at this time I couldn’t change teams because of school – if I had moved to a club in a higher division, I would have had to travel for more than an hour to get to training, and that was too much. So I stayed in the lowest league for the moment.

But it was also great to play in the clubs I’ve been. For example, with Schlieren [2005-07], we played in the 1.Liga [Swiss third division]. During the championship we won all of our 16 games; we scored 75 goals and only conceded 8 goals. That was great for me as a goalkeeper! We were promoted to the next league, Nationalliga B. In this great season we also reached the semi-final of the Swiss Cup. That was extraordinary for a team from the 1.Liga.

Which team did you enjoy playing for most, and do you have any funny stories/anecdotes from your time in football?

First, to play with the boys was cool. Once I had to play with the Ea-Juniors; this was the better team that I played for and the trainer was a little bit strong. So I was very nervous – both when I went to the meeting and in the first minute of the game. But after it was great: we won the game 3-0 and the trainer was very happy and friendly to me.

Then playing for Baden was excellent, because there I had the best goalkeeper coach ever in my career. We worked very hard but we understood each other; he was there for me if I had some questions or a private problem. We worked seriously together but we could also laugh together. We stay in contact, even now.

Also, playing for Schlieren was awesome. I said earlier that in my first year there we won ever game in the championship. And in the second year at the end of the season we finished in third place even though we were in a higher league.

As an anecdote, I can say that I hated football when I was young! My father always went to watch the games at FC Aarau with my brother. And I would never ever go with them. Then in school there was a boy I knew whose father was a coach at FC Aarau. So once I went with him and from this moment I played football.

In Swiss Cup action for Schlieren in 2005 (fussball-fussball.ch)

In Swiss Cup action for Schlieren in 2005 (fussball-fussball.ch)

And I’m proud that I never received a single yellow or red card in the 19 years I played!

At what age did you first start playing football and for which team?

I started to play football at the age of 9. And I played for FC Aarau with the boys. This was for the Eb-Juniors team.

What was it like being the only girl in a boys’ team at youth level? Were the boys jealous or did they respect you for being as good as them?

For me, the boys and the trainer, it was normal that I played with the boys. They saw that I could play football [just as well as them] – sorry, I don’t want to be arrogant, but it’s true!

But the other teams that we played against always laughed when they saw that my team played with a girl in goal. They always said something like: “we will score 10 goals against you, because you have a girl in goal”. Sometimes it was hard for me, because I just wanted to play football. Luckily we won most of the games and after the game the players from the other teams said nothing at all! Most of the time the other trainers come to me to say that I had played well. That was great.

How has women’s football in Switzerland developed in recent years? How big is support for it in Switzerland – how many people watch each match?

I think at the moment it’s better than ever for the women’s  football in Switzerland. In my time we never, ever received money for playing – on the contrary, we had to pay an annual subscription so that we could play for the club!

Now it’s better. I don’t know how much [money] they get, but at some clubs – for example FC Zurich and Grasshopper Club – the players receive some money. Zurich have a couple of ex-national team players in Inka Grings and Sonja Fuss; I think they get a lot of money, because they are professional players.  I think that they are the only professionals in Switzerland, so it’s great that they are playing in the Swiss league –  they can push football in our country, and because of them Zurich always has a lot of people who watch their games: last season there were sometimes more than 500 people there, and that’s a lot in Swiss women’s football!

In my time it was impossible to be a professional footballer. We always had to go to school or to work [as well as playing]. If you had to go to the national team you had to take holidays off work so that you could go. Today it’s better, most of the players work 60% to 80% of the time. And most of the time they get time off from their employer if they had to go, for example, to the Swiss national team.

Also, a few years ago an academy was created in Huttwil for the biggest female talents in Switzerland. They can train there twice a day, going to school at special times, and they live in Huttwil with a host family. These players often stay at the academy for two years, playing for a local club at the weekend.

The Huttwil academy aims to bring through a new generation of Swiss footballers (bzbasel.ch)

The Huttwil academy aims to bring through a new generation of Swiss footballers (bzbasel.ch)

How do you think the women’s game in Switzerland compares to other countries in Europe and worldwide? Is there a reason why the Swiss women’s team have never qualified for the World Cup?

In Switzerland women’s football is not professional – there is less money. And it’s too hard for the players to work 80% of the time or go to school for the whole day and juggle that with playing football 5 or 6 times in one week.

For many years, the same group of players were being selected for the national team –  the coach liked them even they were not the best players from Switzerland.  Now we have a new coach in the Swiss national team and she has changed some players. I think it’s better now, but it will take some time for them to play how the coach would like.

With our youth national teams we’re always better [than at senior level]; at the moment our under-20 national team is at the World Cup in Tokyo.

Who is the best player you have played with and against, and the best team you have faced?

The best player I have played with was Sheila Loosli. She was a Swiss international for many years. She was 34 years old when I played with her. She has two daughters and was a member of the police. We trained 3 or 4 times each week and she was always there. It was very impressive.

The best team I have faced? Let me think… I’d say a representative team from the USA. With Baden I played in a tournament in Italy and in the final we had to play against an American team. We had no chance and we lost the game 4-0. It was so impressive to watch how they played. They were all very strong and focused.

Have you had other jobs in football to earn money, seeing as the clubs you played for didn’t pay you?

Yes, I have done the following things:

  • August 2001-June 2003: Boys’ goalkeeper coach for FC Schöftland, 8-16 year olds
  • July 2001-July 2006: Coach at annual football camp for FC Aarau
  • August 2003-June2005: Boys’ goalkeeper coach for FC Rudolfstetten, 8-12 year olds
  • August 2004-August 2006: Match reporter and commentator for FC Gränichen (Men’s 3rd division)
  • August 2006-June 2007: Goalkeeper coach for Aargau regional under-14 girls team
  • August 2012-present: Coach for FC Aarau, 5-7 year olds

 

Thanks to Franziska for her time.