Having the chance at 19 years of age to play Europa League football was something, this time last year, I would not have even dreamed of.
In another exclusive for English Players Abroad, expatriate Matt Cafer discusses what it is like to play football in UEFA’s newest member country, Gibraltar.
The 20-year-old Cafer, who plays as a goalkeeper, made the move to Gibraltar Premier Divsion side College Europa from Yeovil Town in January earlier this year.
Cafer joined Yeovil Town from his local club Weymouth at the age of 16, where he had captained numerous youth sides. After joining Yeovil on a two-year scholarship, the youngster impressed enough to earn a professional contract.
He made the bench several times for Yeovil’s first team before agreeing a move to become an English player abroad in January.
EPA: How did the move to Gibraltar come about?
MC: I’m not entirely sure myself really. Before I signed here [College Europa], I never really knew much about the place. However, my agent had contacts here and assured me it was a good standard of football and most importantly at my age, minutes on the field at a competitive level.
EPA: Did you have loan spells at any other clubs before moving to Gibraltar?
MC: When I was at Yeovil, I went on loan to my local home team side, Weymouth Town, who play in the Evo Stik Southern Premier League.
EPA: How does the football in Gibraltar compare to the standard in England?
MC: It’s difficult to compare at the moment. This is their [Gibraltar’s] first whole year as a UEFA representative so even now, from the end of last season to this season, the standard has improved massively and each week it’s getting better and better!
EPA: What has been the biggest difference you have noticed between football in Gibraltar and football back at home?
MC: It’s pretty strange. Because the population here is so small each week you’re playing versus a teammate’s cousin or brother and everybody knows everybody. However, with more signings English and Spanish players now, there’s definitely a new flare about local football.
EPA: How have you settled in at College Europa? Any teammates that we should watch out for?
MC: Yeah really well. In the short time I’ve been here I’ve learned a lot of Spanish and made some good friends. There’s a few really good players who have played a good, good standard in Spain but definitely keep an eye out for Juanse Pegalajar. He is a very tricky, talented midfielder and arguably the best in the league at this current moment.
EPA: What was it like making your Europa League debut this year?
MC: Making my Europa League debut vs Vaduz was an incredible experience. I remember as a second year scholar for Yeovil, I was involved with the first team when they won the playoff final at Wembley, therefore taking them to the Championship (Yeovil defeated Brentford 2-1 in the 2013 League One Playoff final). It was incredible warming up and then sitting there amongst 40,000 people and this was not too far off that! Having the chance at 19 years of age to play Europa League football was something, this time last year, I would not have even dreamed of.
EPA: What are your ambitions for the future? Are there any other countries you hope to play in during your career?
MC: In all honestly I’m not sure. The life experience itself has been really enjoyable; learning a new language and lifestyle. [This means] I would definitely consider playing in a different country in the years to come. However at the moment, I’m really happy with how things are going and [I am] just going to keep getting minutes under my belt and who knows what the future holds…