Malta Football Association (Founded 1900)
In the year 2000, the Malta Football Association celebrated the first century since its foundation in 1900, having been the first sports organisation on these islands and also becoming one of the oldest, out of the present 204 national football associations world-wide.
The game of Association Football was introduced in these Islands by the British Services who were stationed on the island and, as recorded, the first ever match of Association Football held locally, was played on 4th March 1882 at Marsa between soldiers of the Garrison and the Royal Engineers. Later on, as more matches were played, the game gradually gained in popularity. Maltese teams were formed and started playing against each other or against the British Services. Floriana FC and St. George's FC are the two oldest Maltese football clubs. As early as 1910 The first league competition for clubs was organised as early as 1910.
Another eventful occasion for the Malta FA was the introduction of the FA Trophy competition in the thirties after the Football Association (London) donated a trophy to the Malta FA, to be played on a knock-out basis, in gratitude for the support given by Maltese fans in the first ever encounter between Italy and England in Rome in May, 1933. This Trophy in solid silver, is still in existence and is one of the most prestigious in Maltese football.
A lot of people still talk with nostalgia about the star-studded European teams which used to visit the island especially during the Christmas period for the popular Christmas tournaments which were held at the privately-owned Empire Stadium in Gzira in the pre and post Second World War periods.
In the early fifties, the Malta FA started taking part in Youth Tournaments abroad such as the Viareggio Tournament in San Remo.
The fifties heralded the debut of the Malta national team in the international arena, when Malta played its first international match on Sunday 24th February 1957 against Austria, losing 3-2. That match was played in front of a capacity crowd at the old Empire Stadium.
Two years later, the Malta FA joined the world governing body of football - FIFA (1959) and a year later it became a member of the European Football Union - UEFA (1960). Membership of these international organisations heralded a new era for Maltese football since Malta could now start participating regularly in international football competitions both at national level and at club level. Hibernians and Floriana were the first two Maltese clubs which took in the European Champions Cup and the Cup Winners Cup respectively way back in 1961. Maltese clubs also started to participate in the UEFA Cup in 1968 and more recently in the new UEFA Intertoto Cup competition.
Malta applied to take part in the European Nations Cup and was drawn to play Denmark at home and away in 1962. Malta's first participation in the FIFA World Cup Qualification Round arrived in 1971 when the Maltese were grouped with Hungary, Austria and Sweden.
Undoubtedly, Malta's best result to date, related to the World Cup, was the memorable ‘away' win in Estonia in 1993, when the Maltese under the guidance of Coach Pippo Psaila, won 1-0 thanks to a goal netted by Kris Laferla. On the other hand, Malta's most prestigious result in the European Nations Cup came in 1971 when Malta defeated Greece 2-0. The Maltese squad was led by Italian mentor Terenzio Polverini.
Maltese football enthusiasts still talk with nostalgia about local prowess against foreign opposition in competition, including Malta's minimal 0-1 defeat against England at the Empire Stadium in 1971 and close results against Germany (0-1, 0-0 and 2-3) and Italy (1-2) in later years. Among other good results, we also recorded a win over Hungary and Iceland and draws against Portugal, Cechoslovakia, Croatia and Bulgaria in world Cup or Euro Championship group matches.
With the complete departure of the British Services from the Maltese Islands on the 31st March, 1979, Maltese football benefited in no small way as far as playing sites, formerly occupied by the British Services, were concerned. Football grounds at such localities as Marsa, Luqa, Corradino, Verdala, St. Andrews, Pembroke and Mtarfa, previously utilised by the British Services, were later converted into sports complexes for the benefit of Maltese football.
But for Maltese football enthusiasts, the most significant breakthrough was the construction by Government of a new National Stadium at Ta' Qali, close to the old City of Mdina, in an area which served as a military airport during the Second World War. This Stadium was inaugurated in December, 1981, and for first time ever top Division League matches and international matches started being played on natural turf.
In 1983, the Malta Football Association entered into an agreement with Government for the control and administration of the National Stadium. Since then, the Malta FA endeavoured to improve this Stadium and maintain it to the highest international standards. More recently the Malta Government gave this Stadium and other adjacent land to the Malta FA on a long lease of 49 years.
Today, the MFA boasts of a National Stadium equipped with all modern amenities, including individual seating, floodlights, electronic scoreboard, a public address system, a media centre, a gymnasium, a physiotherapy clinic, a Technical Centre and other facilities such as the adjacent Centenary Stadium which has an artificial playing surface and the Training Grounds which have natural turf surface. These training pitches are regularly used for the training of the National ‘A' team and other representative teams, as well as by foreign teams coming on training camps in Malta.
On the turn of the new Millennium, the Malta FA embarked on more projects including the building of the Centenary Stadium and the construction of a new modern spectator stand at the National Stadium.
Maltese player Carmel Busuttil, with 113 ‘A' appearances for Malta is certainly one of the best football ambassadors of our country on a prestigious level. Besides being one of the best all-time scorer with 23 goals for the national team, six in one particular season, which put him in joint top position in the European scorers' rankings, Busuttil had a successful seven-year playing spell with the Belgian First Division club, RC Genk in the nineties. His is still an endearing name among the Belgian club's fans.
Michael Mifsud has also made the headlines when turning out for the German Bundesliga team, Kaiserslautern, then Lillestrom in Norway and currently Championship team Coventry City. In the process he earned the satisfaction of once being voted as the best foreigner in Norway, and then when topping the scorers' chart for the Midlands team in season 2007-2008, including two stunning goals in a Carling Cup match against Manchester United.
The most successful Maltese clubs are Floriana, Sliema Wanderers, Valletta, Hibernians and Hamrun Spartans who all had their fair share of league championship or cup winning moments throughout Malta's chequered football history.
Old football lovers vividly recall the epic encounters and rivalry between Malta's ‘Old Firm' clubs, Floriana and Sliema Wanderers, two teams who won most of the honours up to the Fifties. Valletta, Hibernians and Hamrun Spartans broke their monopoly with successful runs in recent decades.
In season 2000/01 Valletta Football Club established a national record with a winning streak of six trophies (the National League Championship, the FA Trophy, the Super Cup, Lowenbrau Cup, Super Five Cup and the Centenary Cup) in the same season.
The principal aim of the Malta FA is to foster the game of football through the organisation of competitions, coaching, refereeing and also love for the game amongst youngsters. The Malta FA is currently formed of fifty-two (52) clubs and ten (10) Member Associations, which in turn organise football competitions for the clubs and teams affiliated with them or other activities related to their status.
One of the most important activities of the Malta Football Association is the organisation and running of the National League in four Divisions and other competitions, including Youth (U/19) competitions, for the clubs.
Lately the MFA introduced the Women's Football, Futsal and Beach Soccer competitions which are growing in popularity quite rapidly. Malta's Futsal teams are now representing our country at national team and club level. The introduction of women's competitions has attracted the interest of the fair sex who have taken up the game as players or undergone courses for referees and coaches run by the Association which is now recognised at ‘A' level of the UEFA Coaching Convention.
The Malta Youth Football Association, which is a full member of the Malta FA, caters for and takes care of the running of the leagues from the U/17 category downwards. The Football Nurseries, which are run by the clubs, participate in these leagues. These Nurseries are now conforming with UEFA Licence regulations and adhere to the Grassroots Charter of the European Confederation.
The MFA also organises courses and refresher courses for referees, coaches and administrators on a regular basis. Malta also participates regularly in the preliminary rounds of the FIFA World Cup, the European Football Championship, the European U/21 Championship as well as the European U/19 and U/17 Championships.
Notwithstanding its limitations in size, in human and financial resources, the Malta FA has been entrusted by UEFA during the past years to organise several conferences including the XX UEFA Ordinary Congress in 1990, meetings of the UEFA Executive Committee and other seminars and conferences for European top coaches and top referees. All these events were so well organised that they earned the Malta FA much praise and respect from both the participants themselves as well as from UEFA.
Both the referees and the coaches have their own organisation to cater for the interests of their members. The Malta Football Referees Association was formed in 1949 whilst the Malta Football Coaches Association was founded in 1959. Both of them are now full members of the Malta FA.
The Technical Centre of the Association also runs a National Football Academy where young players selected from the various Football Nurseries spread all around the island attend training regularly at Ta' Qali.
The Malta FA could make all this progress because it has a sound and professional administration, both at political and at administrative levels. Whilst its Council makes the policy, the officials and the Executive Committee of the Association implement the policies. These are assisted by a small number of paid employees and a big number of volunteers who have the game of association football at heart.
Administratively, the MFA has made big strides forward to keep abreast with modern needs. Several regulations and clauses in its Statute have been amended, while more Committees and Boards have been set up to streamline its workings.
The MFA official website www.mfa.com.mt has also been given a facelift, with new features intended to give out more information and create interactivity with local fans and enthusiasts.
An ambitious project which the Association has recently embarked upon with the financial backing of UEFA, is the assistance to clubs to improve their playing facilities around Malta and Gozo. The Mini-Pitches project under UEFA's hat-trick scheme was another beneficial programme towards enhancing multi-sport playing facilities in many localities of our islands.
Sponsorships abound as the National League and the FA Trophy and Knock-Out Competitions are currently backed by Bank of Valletta and Maltco Lotteries Malta Ltd. This applies also to the national team, which is sponsored by FXDD and GIVOVA
At the level of infrastructure the improvement at the national complex in recent years includes extending and improving the training grounds, the laying of a FIFA Two-Star artificial turf, provision of seats and the setting up of a new scoreboard at the Centenary Stadium, the refurbishment at the National Stadium with an all-seater facility, new scoreboard with visual facilities, laying of an artificial turf surface around the pitch, new fencing to replace the old wrought iron ones, a facelift of the dressing rooms and Press area, besides other embellishments have all given Malta's football centre stage a new look.
Besides these improved facilities, the Malta FA has converted the old gym underneath the West Stand into a centre for the use of national team players, with a state-of-the-art clinic to cater for their fitness needs and those of member clubs.
The MFA Headquarters have now been relocated at Level 2 of the Millennium Stand with a vastly bigger surface area housing conference rooms and offices equipped with modern communication systems.
The Swimming Pool is run by a specialised management and caters for a good number of swimmers both in the learning as well as proficient stages.
Indeed, our association has endeavoured to keep up with the times and will undoubtedly maintain this good work for the benefit of our footballers and the football community in the country.
As one of FIFA's oldest member national associations, founded four years before FIFA itself, the Malta Football Association has made great strides especially during the latter part of the past century and will continue to do so in the further development of the game of Association Football in all its aspects and at the different levels in the coming years.