The story of how a policeman from Gibraltar put a European giant to the sword
For a hard working policeman, a day off seems like the perfect opportunity to relax, put your feet up and recharge the batteries. This is exactly what Gibraltarian law man Lee Casciaro did with his day off on July 12th, 2016. He started his day by heading into town for a coffee in the sunshine, back home for a spot of lunch, followed by a relaxing afternoon with the family. However, his day off concluded with a very productive evening. Scoring the goal which proved to be one of the greatest upsets in European football history.
Casciaro’s goal helped Gibraltar part-timers, Lincoln Red Imps, defeat Celtic, former champions of Europe, in Brendan Rodgers’ first competitive game in charge of the Parkhead club. By day, Casciaro works for the Gibraltar Defence Police. In his second job, he helps keep Lincoln the dominant force of the Gibraltar Premier Division, a league they’ve won 14 times in a row. However, success for a Gibraltarian club in Champions League football is a completely different story.
Drawn against Estonians, Flora Tallinn, in the first round of the qualifiers, either Lincoln or Tallinn would be up against the Scottish champions in the second round. “Once we knew that we would be getting Celtic in the second round, it gave us extra motivation to get past Tallinn”, Casciaro recalls. Who could blame him? The thought of playing in front of Celtic in one of football’s best atmospheres would spur any team on. Lincoln knocked out Tallinn with a 3-2 aggregate score, and the Hoops lay in wait.
After Casciaro’s relaxing afternoon off, it was on to Victoria Park for the arrival of Celtic, who turned up in Gibraltar as overwhelming favourites against their semi-professional opponents. When asked if Lincoln manager, Julio César Ribas, treated Celtic any differently when conducting the team talk, Casciaro said “he didn’t talk much about Celtic, really. Play to our strengths and hit them on the break was his instructions. We knew that playing in Gibraltar, in front of our fans, the artificial pitch and the hot weather would benefit us.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Celtic had the majority of the possession. However, as his manager predicted, Rodgers’ team looked lethargic in the heat. They couldn’t get any sort of real passing game going on a pitch so bumpy it looked like the turf had been laid over craters. Plus, the 2,000-strong Lincoln support was right behind their team all the way. And then came Casciaro’s moment of truth. “I knew that we would get a ball over the top, I’m quite quick – and I knew the defenders were a bit slower”, says the 35 year old Casciaro, who nipped in between Celtic’s international centre-back, Erik Sviatchenko and Efe Ambrose, to turn and prod the ball past Craig Gordon, and send his Lincolteammateses, management, fans and just about the entire population of Gibraltar into raptures. “I know my strengths and weaknesses, so I knew that at pace I could cause problems and luckily enough the chance arose and I took it.”
Celtic piled everything they had at Lincoln, hitting the bar twice, and inspiring a magnificent performance from Lincoln’s goalkeeper, Navas. The full time whistle sealed Celtic’s fate and Rodgers’ managerial reign got off to the rockiest of starts. However, the win sealed a dream come true for Casciaro and the Gibraltarian club, and it was time to celebrate and take in what he and his club had managed. After the game, he Tweeted “Historic result for our club tonight. A brave performance by our lads has delivered a dream result. Well done to all!”. When asked how he spent the hours after the victory, Casciaro said, “After the win, we went back to the club to celebrate, was on the phone talking to the media most of the night and of course with my family”. His family were immensely proud, with Casciaro’s father shouting how his boy would finish the job in Glasgow while the Red Imps hero was being interviewed.
The media worked themselves into a frenzy after the result, with Casciaro speaking in various newspapers and radio stations, as well as appearing on Sky Sports to discuss his club’s achievement. A whole new world for a policeman who says “Football is like a hobby for us”.
For the club, focus then shifted to the return leg in Glasgow. However, for Casciaro, the immediate focus shifted to his double shift at the weekend. Working overtime Saturday and Sunday allowed him to get a couple of days off to travel to Glasgow and attempt finishing Celtic off.
When asked about the return leg at Celtic Park, Casciaro immediately remembered the atmosphere generated by the passionate home crowd, “The atmosphere was electric, the fans singing You’ll Never Walk Alone was second to none, a beautiful experience.” Casciaro was asked if there was optimism in knocking out the Parkhead club, to which he replied “We knew it was going to be a hard game, most top teams struggle to play them at their home, so we knew it was going to be hard.” For Casciaro and his team mates, it was all about enjoying the experience and making sure Celtic knew they were in a game.
In the end, Celtic ran out comfortable 3-0 winners, and Lincoln’s European adventure was over. For Casciaro and his team mates, however, it was an experience he’ll never forget. Hoops boss Rodgers was also gracious in victory. “We got invited by Rodgers to their changing room after the game and exchanged shirts with their players”. Players who earned astronomical sums of money in comparison. However, players who Casciaro’s team mates stood with that night as equals.
Now back to dominating in his domestic league, Casicaro admits things are beginning to settle since the shockwave he created in July. “Media wise, people are more aware of Gibraltar and the league here, but things have settled back to normal once again”. For Casciaro, his aim is to continue to have success in Gibraltar with Lincoln. “We have a very good team here in Gibraltar so our aim is to win many more league championships, but other teams are getting better and want to try and beat us. I have been with Lincoln since the age of 7. I am 35 now. It’s my club, and I will be involved once I retire.”
Domestic success leads to European possibilities now for teams in Gibraltar. With UEFA membership granted in 2013, league and cup winners now get the opportunity to take on Europe’s elite on a regular basis. When asked if group stage qualification is a possibility for a Gibraltarian team, Casciaro remains realistic. “Getting to the group stages will be hard, not impossible but realistically there are very good teams you have to knock out before you get to the group stages”. Teams like Celtic, who have now started to look like a formidable force since the Shock of Gibraltar.
Casciaro himself can see the improvement, and hopes his old foes can do well. “I watched the Old Firm Derby and when they played against Man City, they looked the real deal at home. They have a very good side, so I hope they can progress as much as possible.”
Not only did Lincoln hitman sink Celtic, he also scored the first ever competitive goal for the Gibraltar national team against, you’ve guessed it, Scotland. His team never got the victory that day, as they slumped to a 6-1 defeat at Hampden. However, Casciaro definitely has a knack of scoring against Scottish teams. “I’ve had luck against a Scottish club and the Scottish National team, scoring against them both, so it seems to me that I have a lucky charm to get the goals against them!”
As for his most important goal, there is no doubt in Casciaro’s mind, “The most important goal should be the Celtic one at home because we won the game, especially beating such an immense club like they are”. He’s absolutely right. Getting the goal was a tremendous achievement. Getting the victory will forever be remembered around the globe when people talk about shocks in football.
Let’s see if you all can do something quite so productive on your next day off.