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Malta seek to mirror off-field progress

Published: Tuesday 5 January 2010, 17.38CET
Founded in 1900, the Malta Football Association is one of the oldest of the 204 such bodies worldwide.
Malta seek to mirror off-field progress
Gilbert Agius and Michael Mifsud celebrate Malta's 2-1 win against Hungary in October 2006 ©Domenic Aquilina
Published: Tuesday 5 January 2010, 17.38CET

Malta seek to mirror off-field progress

Founded in 1900, the Malta Football Association is one of the oldest of the 204 such bodies worldwide.

Founded in 1900, the Malta Football Association (MFA) is one of the oldest of the 204 such associations worldwide. The game was introduced to the Maltese islands by British servicemen stationed there, and the first match took place in 1882. By 1910 a first league championship had been organised.

Another historic event for the MFA was the introduction of the Maltese Trophy competition in the 1930s. The English Football Association (FA) donated the trophy in gratitude for the Maltese support England received during their first-ever encounter with Italy in Rome in 1933. Many in Malta still speak nostalgically of the pre and post-Second World War days when star-studded European teams would visit the island to play tournaments, particularly at Christmas, at the old Empire stadium in Gzira.

In the early 1950s, the MFA started to promote youth football, and its sides began to take part in competitions abroad such as the Viareggio tournament in Italy. Another landmark was reached in February 1957 when the senior national team played their first international against Austria; in front of a capacity crowd at the Empire stadium, Malta lost 3-2.

Malta became a member of FIFA in 1959 and joined UEFA in 1960. This heralded a new era for Maltese football at national and club levels, providing the opportunity to participate in many different tournaments.

Floriana FC, Sliema Wanderers FC, Valletta FC, Hibernians FC and Hamrun Spartans FC have been the most successful club sides in Malta. Floriana and Sliema took the initial honours, yet more recently Valletta, Hibernians, Hamrun and Birkirkara FC have come to the fore.

Malta's first competitive international was a UEFA European Championship tie against Denmark in 1962. Their FIFA World Cup debut came in a qualifying group for the 1974 edition, alongside Hungary, Austria and Sweden. However, it is a 2-0 home win against Greece in a qualifier for the 1976 UEFA European Championship, and a 1-0 victory in Estonia in a 1994 World Cup qualifier, that stand out as the national team's greatest moments.

Off the pitch, certain events are worthy of note. When the British armed forces left the island in 1979, the MFA benefited from the return of football grounds previously used by the military, and come 1981 a new national stadium at Ta' Qali had been opened.

The election of Dr Joseph Mifsud, president of the MFA, to the UEFA Executive Committee in 1994 and to the FIFA Executive Committee in 1998, were significant milestones in the history of the association, as was the appointment of Malta's Emanuel Zammit to officiate at matches at the 1998 World Cup and UEFA EURO 2000. Early in 2008 Dr Mifsud was also appointed to the prestigious post of UEFA vice-president.

With a professional structure in place for the national team, with women's football and futsal growing in popularity, and with the establishment of a youth football association, the MFA has demonstrated great application and determination to take football forward. Referees and coaches also have their own established parent bodies.

These measures have been key to the MFA gaining the confidence of UEFA. Notwithstanding its small size and limited resources, the MFA has been entrusted with the hosting of various conferences and seminars over the years, including the XX UEFA Ordinary Congress in 1990.

UEFA's HatTrick assistance programme is also aiding the development of football facilities in the country. Since being elected as MFA president in August 2010, Norman Darmanin Demajo has inaugurated new facilities at member clubs, with further projects in the final stages of completion, and others in the pipeline such as the latest renovation of the Ta' Qali National Stadium.

"The MFA has identified that football in our small nation can only progress if direct assistance is afforded at club level in two major areas – continued professional education and assistance for the improvement of facilities," said Mr Darmanin Demajo. "The MFA will continue to work in this direction, encouraged and assisted by the UEFA HatTrick scheme which is an important part of the equation for realising our goals.

"The strength of present and future HatTrick programmes takes on a new dimension when using that financial assistance as collateral for raising additional funds that are needed today, for benefits that will be enjoyed by our clubs for many years. In a fast and changing world, staying the same means falling behind, so we need to keep up to date with developments and practices. We will also be giving continued professional education and good governance top priority."

Last updated: 11/05/14 6.46CET

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