BY CHRIS ETCHINGHAM
As countries go, there are few that can match the sheer stunning beauty of Andorra. Nestled firmly in the Pyrenees between France and Spain, Andorra is the sixth smallest nation in Europe in terms of size, its population could fit inside Barcelonaâ€™s Nou Camp stadium. It has a rich culture stretching back over a thousand years and is a constitutional monarchy with an official language of Catalan, though French and Spanish are widely spoken too.
Andorraâ€™s sporting achievements have mainly been in the winter sports arena. Sophie Dusautoir Bertrand won a bronze medal in Ski Mountaineering at the 2009 European Championships and Joan Verdu Sanchez also won bronze in Alpine Skiing at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics. Yet in other sports, Andorra seems to have an almost nomadic existence. VPC Andorra XV is a Rugby Union team based in the nationâ€™s capital Andorra La Vella who play in the French league. Basketball team BC Andorra play in the top flight of the Spanish league system. They are not alone in plying their trade across the southern border, as FC Andorra play in Primera Catalana which is the fifth tier of the Spanish football league.
It cannot be a huge surprise that an Andorran team play at such a low level. Internationally, they are almost propping up the rest of the world; their current FIFA ranking is 205, wedged in-between such minnows as Somalia and Papua New Guinea. The players are mainly amateur and their only competitive victory since their acceptance into FIFA in 1996 was a 1-0 victory over Macedonia in a European Championship qualifying match in October 2004. They did rather well holding England to 0-0 at half time in 2007 giving the English players and manager Steve McClaren a hostile reception by their fans as they made their way to the changing rooms â€“ the game also saw David Nugent score in his only appearance for the national team.
FC Andorra have fared little better in their time either. Founded in 1942 by the College of Our Lady of Meritxell (Andorraâ€™s patron saint) whereby it joined the Catalan Football Federation competing in the lower reaches of the Spanish football system. Having long bumbled around the leagueâ€™s basement, FC Andorra reached Spainâ€™s third tier Segunda Division B in 1981 where they stayed for the majority of the next seventeen years. For two seasons at the end of the 1980â€™s they even competed in the end of season play-offs to compete in Segunda B. However, they were unsuccessful both times.
Their greatest achievement, though, came just a few years later as they won the Copa Catalunya in June 1994 beating Espanyol 4-2 on penalties with the match finishing 0-0 after extra time. This achievement is all the more extraordinary as the plucky Andorrans had beaten Barcelona in the semi-finals with defender Juan Carrillo scoring a last minute winner. This, donâ€™t forget, was the Barcelona era of Romario, Hristo Stoichkov and Michael Laudrup.
Andorra had one last shot at glory in 1996 as they reached the last 16 of the Spanish Cup where they were eliminated 2-0 by Celta Vigo, but not before knocking out Palamos and Getafe (4-2 on aggregate) along the way. Unfortunately, this was to be no great new dawn for Andorran football, they were relegated to the fourth tier Tercera Division at the end of the 1997/98 season before their eventual relegation to their current resting place in the Primera Catalana.
FC Andorra are little more than a footnote in Spanish football, one of many clubs in the leagueâ€™s rich history who have threatened to move onto greater things only for circumstance to push them back down again. What they are is a proud club representing a proud nation. The club crest is Andorraâ€™s coat of arms and their blue, yellow and red kit are the same colours that fly on the countryâ€™s flag. They are small; itâ€™s highly unlikely that they will ever play in Spainâ€™s top flight or win the Copa Catalunya again, yet they are one thing that nobody else could ever be. They are Andorran.
YOU CAN FOLLOW CHRIS ON TWITTER @CArmband AND CHECK OUT HIS BLOG https://emancipationforgoalposts1.wordpress.com/Â HE IS ALSO THE HOST OF THE NEW TWFP PODCAST AND THE AWARD WINNING MAN ON THE POST PODCAST