The Malta Independent 15 April 2021, Thursday

The honey-toned side of the Maltese game

Charles Flores Sunday, 7 March 2021, 09:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

I know football, as the most popular game in the world, has long been usurped by the multi-nationals, the richest global brands and American, Russian, Chinese and other Asian billionaires peddling their commercial empires. It has been a worrying development abetted by television rights and exclusivities for decades now. But cancel any ideas you may have about love of the game or a dedication to sport. It was and still is a business stratagem that helps camouflage secret deals, foster tax evasion and, in the process, achieve some self-inflated aggrandizement.

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OK, it has to be acknowledged that players, coaches and other related officials have also done well, earning astronomical salaries they would never have dreamed of when football was still a sport you practised on bone-hard playing surfaces or in pot-holed village and town streets. But does not anyone feel that football has lost what original values it had, its social, educational and physical attributes, with kids now dreaming more of hitting the big times rather than actually enjoying themselves with every kick of the ball?

It is a malady that has also seeped into the arid setting of the Maltese game. It is no longer a question of who has the best players, but who has the power of money to buy them. It is still a minuscule football scene for anyone to bother about serious matters that are threatening the international arena, including annual threats from the biggest clubs seeking to stick to playing against each other rather than taking on the poorer clubs. It may sound appealing to their own fans, but there's a majority of genuine football lovers gradually getting so bored by it all that their sporting interests are grudgingly shifting to other, less disgustingly money-based sports.

I find it so intriguing that Maltese football, so often taken for granted and eternally smeared by corruption claims, should be offering avenues to local and Italian businessmen. Let's be frank, what profits can be made running a Maltese or Gozitan football club? So why do some big businessmen do it? Certainly not for the badge, or the fans, the colours or the patron saints. What is in this honey-toned side of the Maltese game that some seem so attracted to? The silverware is merely the bait. Fans love winning it, but ultra-rich presidents must have other interests.

Of course I am not pointing fingers, just asking. A look at the current Maltese Premier League table will show you club names you would never have dreamed they could be there - Balzan, Lija, Sirens, Gudja, Zejtun - and I say so with all due respect to their loyal fans. After all, I hail from Kalkara where the village team has never reached such heights, but I remember playing for it when they had to include me because of too many injuries, against, for example, Marsaxlokk in what used to be the fourth division on the horrific pitch of the old Schreiber venue. We beat them. A few years later they were to win the Premier League! A committed rich president had done wonders. He left them, they quickly dropped to where they were before. And we still dare to call it sport?

This kind of magical transformation of fortunes has been going on for several years now and there will be those who will tell you, with much emotion, about the "huge, financial sacrifices" presidents have to make and how beloved they are among the fans... until they leave for pastures new, with possibly more enticing prospects. Foreign players, who need to be paid at higher rates and provided with accommodation, have added to the pressure on clubs that only survive as long as the magic-wand presidents stay on. Soon as one has had enough, usually giving the impression of having almost been impoverished, players and staff feel the brunt of instant decline until the next rich messiah comes along.

There is a sense of artificiality, an overwhelming haze of dark matter in all this, but also an understandable measure of suspicion. Successful people in their specific fields deserve one's admiration, but they cannot be schmuck enough to get into such situations for nothing. There is hardly a game left, at least as the world has known it for almost two centuries. Covid-19 may have after all been the precursor.

 

Snooty remark

Oh I see. So according to some elitist academics an electoral majority of 40,000 is only attributable to a lack of proper education, but an erudite rabble of about a hundred persons, mostly propping up frustrated losers, politicians, their hangers-on and organising sporadic protests under different guises, make up the very essence of Maltese society.

This very snooty remark only makes you want to throw up. It just shows there is this tiny, time-honoured slash in the Maltese social fabric which still thinks in terms that are more in synch with pre-revolutionary Europe than 21st century realities.

Of course people have every right to protest and to believe what they want, including the flat-earthers, but to first talk about justice and democracy and then, with one silver-tongued twist of phrase, claim majorities only form because the rest do not think like you and so are ignorant and uncultured, one is only committing harakiri. Which is a very noble way of metaphorically ending such a high point of ridiculosity.

 

Here we go again

Hardly had the Johnson & Johnson's newly-approved Covid-19 vaccine been declared last week when out came the Catholic archdiocese of New Orleans condemning it as morally compromised for its "ties to abortion cells". A new scientific breakthrough that could save thousands of lives all over the world, and the religious objectors quickly surface from beneath the floorboards, a story that history is replete with, alas, often keeping whole societies hostage for ages.          


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