Gibraltar will be overwhelming underdogs when they face France next month, but striker Reece Styche remains ever-upbeat about representing the tiny Overseas Territory.
Styche, who is eligible to represent Gibraltar through his grandmother, made his international debut in a friendly against the Faroe Islands in March 2014, in what was just the country’s second game after gaining UEFA membership.
Since 2018, he has been a regular feature in the National team squad, amassing a further 30 appearances and even getting on the scoresheet three times.
And even after a brief conversation, it’s clear these experiences are something Styche holds dear.
“It’s such a cliche, but it’s a proud moment every time I go over, every time I train, every time I get on the pitch,” he explained.
“You’ve got so many professional players from the conference right through to the Premier League that don’t get to experience what I’ve experienced, so you can’t take it for granted,” added Styche, who currently plays in the seventh tier of English football.
But far from the fields of the Northern Premier League, Gibraltar will resume their EURO 2024 qualification campaign in June, with that headline meeting with France coming three days before a visit to the Republic of Ireland.
Styche and Co. have also already travelled to De Kuip, home of Feyenoord, to take on The Netherlands, in a group which would make even the most accomplished of footballing nations shudder, let alone one that is less than a decade old and has a population of around 30,000.
But if the presence of two of the continent’s powerhouses has Styche feeling unsettled, he certainly isn’t showing it.
“This sounds almost like I’m not talking truthfully,” he laughed.
“But I don’t get ate up in terms of the players that I’m coming up against, because I just think you’re just another football player, just another human.
“For me, it’s more the stadiums and the number of fans that you play in front of.
“But the most important thing is when my family are there; my wife and my kids, that’s what makes it for me.”
That confidence, as admirable as it may be, does seem unlikely to yield any results from this campaign, with Gibraltar having suffered back-to-back 3-0 defeats against Greece and The Netherlands in their opening group games.
But, as Styche is keen to point out, judging the nation’s place in the footballing landscape on these results alone would be to undersell its players’ achievements, both collective and personal.
“Every year that I’ve been there, there’s always been something you can look back and say ‘that year was good’ or ‘that month was good,” he explained.
“Whether we’ve won the Nations League group, whether we’ve won games, whether I’ve scored.
“In terms of scoring, obviously personally, it’s absolutely amazing, you’re an international goal scorer against big nations like Switzerland, Norway and Montenegro.
“So, those goals for me are a career high.”
As Styche eludes to, much of Gibraltar’s early success has come in UEFA’s Nations League; a tiered competition introduced in 2018.
There was the aforementioned promotion from League D (containing European’s lowest-ranked sides) in 2020, and even a draw with 1994 World Cup semi-finalists Bulgaria when they made the step up to Group C in the most recent edition of the competition.
That increased competitive output may appear to lend credence to the idea that nations such as Gibraltar would be better served facing teams of a similar stature, as opposed to the likes of The Netherlands and France.
Indeed, a similar idea was touted by former England international Gary Lineker, following a meeting between England and San Marino 2021.
But Styche, whilst recognising the key role the Nations League could play in his country’s potential growth, sees such a proposal as restrictive.
“It’s almost an elitist view, really,” he said.
“Yes, sometimes we’ve lost heavily, but I think that’s when we’ve switched off mentally, it’s not because we’re not good enough, it’s a mentality thing.
“Going back to that Netherlands game, we went down to 10 men and only lost three-nil. How many other teams can say that that would happen?
“So, when you hear people give their opinions it is frustrating, you can understand why they say it, but then I think it’s just a lack of respect for the countries that they are talking about, because it means a lot to us, a hell of a lot, to be competing at this level.
“But they are just opinions, so you’ve just got to try not to get drawn in by them and frustrated by them.”
So what does the future hold, as the members of Styche’s first generation of Gibraltar internationals enter their 30s, and possibly the twilight of their careers?
22-year-old Louie Annesley, who also represents the side, believes the next crop of players are well-placed to carry the country forward.
“I think because of the success we’ve had in the last 2-3 years, the pool of players is becoming bigger,” he said.
“A lot of kids from the UK actually coming over, I think we’ve got a young boy from Derby, one from Manchester United as well coming over to play.
“So you know, we’re improving definitely. And I think, yeah, really the future just looks bright.”