The Malta Independent 6 June 2023, Tuesday
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Too Much of the same kind – an indigestion of football

Malta Independent Sunday, 19 December 2004, 00:00 Last update: about 11 years ago

Long gone are the days when local football followers looked forward to the festive season waiting anxiously for the arrival of one or two foreign teams for the annual Christmas tourney.

Those days, our teams used to pit their strengths against the foreigners, even if, on most occasions, they were heavily beaten. Yet it was what we used to term as a Christmas or New Year’s treat and it was a successful endeavour by the Malta Football Association and the old Gzira Stadium Management considering the sizeable attendances which used to flow in from the gates for each and every match – either six or eight in all between Christmas and the feast of the Epiphany.

Several years have now passed and no foreign teams are brought here any longer to play against our sides in such tournees.

Of course, there are several factors which have led to the decision to scrap such an event during the years. First and foremost is the financial problem. To get such teams here today is very expensive and it is by no means feasible to get one team, let alone two, which could prove to be an attraction.

Moreover, nowadays, in most of the European countries, at least, football takes a rest during this festive season. Therefore, few if any, clubs would be available.

Take, for example, nearby Italy. Football is not played next Sunday and the Sunday after and this is quite a reasonable decision. The players and all those involved all have the right to enjoy the holidays with their families.

Yet, this is not done in Malta. Contrary to predictions, this time round, we are having a full programme, not just a weekend programme on the two Sundays (Boxing Day and 2 January), but also in midweek, because of the Super Five Lottery tournament, which, in a way, nowadays replaces the old Christmas tourney.

The programme starts on Wednesday 22 December with two Super Five tournament semi-final matches. Then, on Boxing Day, that is the day after Christmas, there are two FA Trophy matches in the morning and the Super Five Lottery tournament finals in the afternoon.

It continues on Monday evening with two another FA Trophy matches at the Centenary Stadium until we arrive on Sunday 2 January where, probably for the first time ever in the history of Maltese football, we will have four Premier League matches – two in the morning and another two in the afternoon.

But does all this football in such a short period make sense at a time when the MFA itself is working hard to try and get the public back to fill the terraces?

Of course, not. I think this is simply a stab in the MFA’s back by the association itself.

It is not the first time that I have had the opportunity to comment on what I term as an indigestion of football on these islands. It is a fact that we have too many competitions, but what is wrong is that we have too many fixtures in which the same clubs are involved and frequently too.

In the past few years, I used to comment on the frequency of matches involving Valletta and Birkirkara. Nowadays it is other teams, like Birkirkara and Sliema. We already have the possibility of seeing them facing each other for the third time before the end of the Year. And do not forget that they still have to meet again three times in the League with the possibility of another two encounters in the FA Trophy and the Super Cup, if it is played at the end of this season.

If that is not too much, then I do not know. I am sure that in no country will two of the top clubs meet each other so much in just one season!

In this manner we are certainly reducing the attraction such matches should offer. In fact, people tend to become accustomed and consider such matches as ordinary games. My feedback shows that despite all the attention given in the media to such top matches, the majority of the sporting public is simply ignoring all the appeals being made to return to watch local football. A caser in point was the recent Valletta-Birkirkara league match. On that occasion, despite all the hype and media pre-game build-up, there must have been not more than 2,500 for a game which, a few seasons ago, would have attracted at least 5,000 people.

Another clear example is the Valletta FC supporters, considered by all as the noisiest and most numerous supporters on this island. This year, despite the club’s good run of success, they have failed to attract probably half of their potential of just a few years ago.

It is a real pity because one of the major factors of the lack of attraction our football offers is that there is no real football atmosphere at the stadiums.

In my opinion, this is simply because we just have a few clubs being involved in too many competitions.

This time, however, it is certainly not the clubs’ fault if our venues will be mostly empty in the next fortnight, even if it was their delegates who had accepted the programme way back in June or July.

I sincerely hope that the MFA, next year, will consider this genuine appeal to reduce the number of matches at this festive period, even if some competitions have to be scratched from the calendar.

Everyone would relish a sort of rest. Not just the players and the officials of their clubs. I am sure the MFA itself, the spectators and, yes, even we, the journalists, would say Thank You.

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