Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ah, the magic and tricks of football… Norway was low on the game’s scale, but Malta was rock bottom. The ball was introduced early on the rocky island, more famous for been the nest of the Maltese Order for centuries. But the monks have nothing to do with football – as almost everywhere else, the British introduced the sport: Malta was their colony by the end of 19th century. Soldiers were stationed on the rocks, they kicked the ball, and everything started. But the Maltese proved stubborn lot… for all those years and despite close ties with England and Italy (their other major influence), local football remained constant – always weak. Even Stanley Matthews failed to improve it – he played his last season there in 1970, when he was playing coach of Hibernians. Big name surely, yet his participation speaks more of the state of the local football: the legend was 55 years old and did not play organized football since 1965. Fit for Malta. though. No matter how weak the game, the Maltese played it and run regular championship of ten teams since the beginning of 20th century. In 1975 Floriana FC proudly won their 22nd Maltese title.
Floriana is the oldest club in Malta, founded in 1894. They hail from the city with the same name near the state’s capital. Well, almost the same name – in Maltese, the city is Furjana, but the club preserves the British name. In 1905 they played against the Dublin Fusiliers regiment, stationed on the island at the time, and after the final whistle the soldiers expressed desire the club start using their colours. The club obliged and plays in green and white ever since, thus acquiring the nickname ‘Tal-Irish’. Floriana also published regularly a club magazine since 1949 – ‘Evergreen’. It was a bulletin really, but still the Maltese were years ahead of most clubs in the world. They collected titles too and as far as Maltese football goes, were major force. This was to change, but not yet. So far – champions.
The Cup went to Valletta FC. The club is younger by almost 20 years than Floriana, but they are the best known Maltese club in Europe – unlike fading Floriana, Valletta remained steadily on top and however shortly, they were constant participants in the European Cups. Hardly ever went beyond the first stage, but at least always around.
The picture is from the previous season, when Valletta won the championship, but the squad was pretty much the same in 1974-75, adding one more cup to their trophy room.
Apart from winners, what else can be said about Maltese football? Looks like the game was played mostly with the aim of building character. Strong character!
There was not a single stadium with grass well until the end of the 1970s and may be longer. Foreign visitors were irritated and worried, but the tricky advantage and strong character failed to help the natives: at the end, foreigners always won. Still do…