Football Islands – Malta

The Republic of Malta consists of an archipelago of three inhabited islands which are little more than rocky outposts in the middle of a huge sea.  The islands all sit in the middle of the Mediterranean some 93km south of the Italian island of Sicily. Malta is the largest and most populous of the islands and contains the capital city of Valletta; a small city that is picturesquely located between two harbours and the larger towns of Birkirkara, Qormi, Hamrun and Sliema.

Valletta is at the hub of the tourism for which Malta is so famous.

Successive civilisations have occupied Malta giving it the distinctive feel that it has today.  It was settled by the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Romans.  By the 9th century Malta was part of the Byzantine Empire before it was conquered by the Arabs.  The Sicilians then controlled the islands before it fell to Spanish rule in 1282.

Valletta took on the shape it has today following its presentation to the  religious order the Knights of St John in 1530 before it fell to Napoleon in 1798. Finally Britain took the islands in 1800 and they held it until 1947 when it eventually became self governing.  Unfortunately due to the Second World War, the islands were heavily involved in the North Africa conflict due to its strategic position in the Mediterranean sea.

While Malta does not contain mega football stadiums it does have a number of megalithic temples built more than 5000 years ago.  Rocky and dusty, tourism is the mainstay of the islands and there are no forests or major rivers. With a population of around 400,000 it is heavily dependent on imported materials and supplies.

Football in Malta

Given football was introduced to Malta during British rule the English game had a huge influence on its development. However, it was after the war and independence that many of the teams we know today emerged.  Rather than an English feel there is a large Italian taste to the football and the supporter culture.

The 1940’s saw a doubling in the size of the number of registered clubs.  Interest in the Maltese league continued throughout the 1950s, 1960’s and 1970s with fifteen more clubs joining the league including Birkirkara FC in 1950.

The advent of UEFA club competition saw many of the great names of European football come to Malta including Real Madrid and Liverpool but results were poor.  The 1980’s saw the monopolisation of the old firm of Sliema Wanderers and Floriana again.

However, another club Hamrun Spartans won the league three times in 1983, 1987 and 1988.

Football in Malta is entertaining and hugely competitive.  There is a keen rivalry between the sets of fans despite small crowds ranging between 300 and 2000.  It is a high quality semi-professional football league with a village rivalry feel.  There is a mixture of nationals playing with the appearance of Brazilians being a notable recent feature at Hibernians Paola.

At present there are a number of clubs with the resources and capability of winning the championship trophy, which is now called the Maltese Premier League. Birkirkara FC are a notable force in the Maltese league but performances in the Champions League qualifying rounds continues to be poor.  The most recent champions – Hibernians and Valletta FC – have always been out of the competition at the early qualifying rounds.

Currently the Maltese national football system consists of 53 teams with 4 tiers. These are the Maltese Premier League, the Maltese First Division, the Maltese Second Division, and the Maltese Third Division.

In the summer of 2011 we went to Malta and sampled these fantastic islands and the football.  It was surprising the passion that is felt for the club sides and its clear Italian clubs still influence the feel amongst fans.

You can see some of the pictures here.