From Glassboys to World Cup qualifiers for Reece Styche

Memphis Depay, Luuk de Jong, Virgil van Dijk – just some of the world class footballers who will be on the same field as Stourbridge forward Reece Styche on Monday.

Reece Styche
Reece Styche

Styche, who recently joined the Glassboys from Hednesford, will represent Gibraltar for the 19th time in Rotterdam against Holland in a World Cup qualifier.

Although Stourbridge knew he would miss some games through international duties when they signed him, he has already justified the move by scoring two goals at Hitchin in his current team’s first victory of the season last weekend.

This weekend though he was playing against Montenegro last night in another qualifier before flying to The Netherlands. He will also be attempting to move out in front as the all-time top scorer for his adopted country – currently he has three alongside Tjay De Baar and Lee Casciaro.

For a country that was only granted full Uefa membership in 2013 and had to fight hard for FIFA recognition three years later, the tiny island nation has made significant progress, winning Group D of the Nations League last year against San Marino and Liechtenstein.

That competition may not be given much credence in some quarters, but it is worth noting that as recently as 2006, Gibraltar could only compete in a one-off Fifi Wild Cup tournament – a mini world cup for nations that were at the time unrecognised by Fifa – against teams like Greenland and Tibet.

Styche joined the Gibraltan squad last Monday and will miss Stourbridge’s home game with Rushden today as well as the trip to Tamworth on Tuesday. He has gone through a week of intensive training on The Rock with sessions held three times a day, a regime alien to the majority of part time players.

Styche said: “Such is the intensity of international football and the ambitions of Gibraltar, it requires me to be away for the whole week with the squad and the way we prepare, the training, the hotels, it is second to none. I really think it is comparable to how England would do it.

“Gibraltar has come on leaps and bounds in football – we were probably seen as the whipping boys in qualifying for Euro 2016 and the World Cup 2018 and perhaps the results reflected that, but we have progressed a lot since then resulting in the Nations League success.”

Rhys qualifies to play for Gibraltar by virtue of his grandmother and is one of the few non-natives in the squad, along with Louie Annesley of Blackburn Rovers, with only the two of them and one other player, De Baar, playing for English clubs.

As the national team has progressed, so has the domestic league which merged two divisions into one in 2019 to form the Gibraltar National League and the majority of the squad play for teams on the island.

Rhys admitted when he first was called up to the national squad in 2014 for two friendlies, he felt like a slight outcast because he played and was born on the mainland UK.

But since being re-called by new national team coach Julio Cesar Ribas in July 2018, he was included in the first UEFA Nations League squad and came off the bench against Macedonia and Liechtenstein, scoring his first goal in November 2019 in a Euro qualifier against Switzerland.

So how does he feel about facing the international superstars of The Netherlands on Monday in a world-famous stadium.

He said: “It will be a great experience of course and we owe them after getting beaten 7-0 at home but I am not thinking about it at the moment. When I get out there and have a look around I might have to pinch myself but really the training camp and the way we have prepared for the double-headed games means we will all be totally focused.”

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