Hello everyone and welcome back to Getting To The Game, apologies for the slight delay but I had no idea editing sound clips and videos was that time consuming!
Anyway, it’s here now so I hope you enjoy it..
Those of you that had seen social media over the last few weeks, will know that this month's trip was a little out of left field, but as the trip was already booked I decided I should investigate the football scene in the Mediterranean Island of Malta.
Malta is a small Island, smaller than the Isle of Wight (for people reading at home) with a population of around 500,00 people.
Despite this it has four national leagues, women's leagues and youth competitions and currently occupy 182nd place in the FIFA world Rankings.
Prior to heading over I made contact with a few clubs that had home fixtures over the weekend, there was one though that caught my eye, Qormi F.C vs Hibernians F.C 16:00 Sunday at the National Stadium.
Whilst doing some research about the fixtures, it was pictures of the bright yellow flags and banners of the Qormi fans that really fascinated me.
Qormi F.C ply their trade in the Bank of Valletta Premier League (Maltese top division), they're nicknamed ‘the bakers’ and were founded in 1961.
Last season (2017-18) they were promoted from the second tier as champions.
They've been runners up in the domestic cup on three occasions but thus far have never had any success at the highest level.
They are currently languishing 13th (of 14) with 4 points from 11 games.
After a few conversations on Facebook with the Qormi Supporters Club, I had agreed to meet Carl from the club on Saturday of their “pre-game preparations” what this meant? I had no idea, but I was pleased that I’d actually found someone to speak to at the first time of asking.
Fast forward to Saturday.
After flying out the day before, and a heavy night of drinking, I was up at 9am to go and find Qormi.
At this point I had no idea what Qormi or ‘a Qormi’ was, It sounded like it could well be a type of mystical seahorse or an American gangsta rapper?
It turns out though It’s the fifth biggest town in Malta and has a massive Lidl.
Finally I reached the sports complex an hour and ten minutes later after three buses, a run across a six lane motorway, scaling a 9ft wall and a traipse across a building site.
I arrived half an hour late, but the welcome couldn’t of been warmer.
I was expecting to meet Carl, but due to work commitments he had put me in the capable hands of Braden, John-Paul, Jamie and Kevin.
Upon introducing myself I was ushered into the clubhouse and immediately offered a drink.
I was adamant though, that after spending their day coming to meet me that I’d be the one offering the drinks, so after getting a round of drinks in and it somehow only coming to €5.50 we sat down for a chat and I asked them some questions.
Following the interviews I was taken on a guided tour of the complex, often referred to as “The Nursery” to see where the magic happened.
I was reliably informed that Qormi has one of the biggest youth systems on the island and are very keen for the youth team to progress into the starting line up.
I was shown, the pitch, changing rooms, kit mans room, classrooms for the youth team and even the office of the sporting director (who I would go on to meet at the match the following day).
All of these pale in significance though to what was behind the next door..
The supporters club store, a plethora of flags, banners, scarves, drums and flares, everything the Maltese ultra would need, all in one room. Lovely stuff.
Before I left, I given a goody bag of souvenirs and shown an immense yellow flag that would be on display at the game the following day, believed to be the biggest in Malta.
The following day was match day, the day I’d been waiting for, Qormi vs Hibs, second vs second bottom.
‘The Bakers’ were looking to avoid defeat for the first time in 7 games, and Hibs were looking to regain top spot.
Despite the stats, it was a day of optimism around the club because a new coach (Mario Muscat, who coincidentally had been Hibernians goalkeeper coach) had been installed and he had brought in a few new players.
It may have been match day, but I still had to get to the match..
Another bus debacle was about to ensue.
Two hours, four buses and another building site later, me and my wife Vix arrived at The National Stadium just in time for kick off.
Initially we entered the wrong part of the ground, where we were charged €4 each and told no refunds because we had already used the tickets.
So after leaving that section, finding the right stand and using my best “I’m a stupid English tourist, can you help me please” impression, we gained entry to the correct section of the ground.
The Ta’Qali stadium is a huge open bowl of a stadium that is almost never filled but unlike many grounds I've been to in smaller nations across the world, It’s well kept and very organised.
(Partly down to the overwhelming amount of police on show for a game that was never going to have more than a thousand people at it.)
On arrival to the Qormi section of the ground we were greeted by Carl and the other guy’s I’d met the previous day.
Carl is top right with the glasses, Braden to the left of him with the coat.
John-Paul is in the pork pie style hat and Kevin is on the left of the photo frame.
We grabbed a beer and chatted about Qormi’s chances for the game ahead.
Prior to kick off (in what I had now realised must be true Maltese custom) the new manager was given a enormous bouquet of flowers from his former club.
The match started in blistering fashion with both sides having chances to break the deadlock, before a goal was scored I couldn’t really tell which team was at the top and which was struggling in the league.
Unfortunately for the yellows though, Hibs got in front just before the break, which at the time was a little against the run of play as Qormi had just had a goal ruled out for offside.
Although the supporters club was only around 40 strong for this game, they had a sea of yellow flags and John-Paul's drum beat out constant rhythm which certainly made themselves heard throughout the first half.
Half Time Qormi F.C 0-1 Hibernians
During the break (and another ice cold Cisk) I met up with Sporting director Edward Micallef, had a chat about the game and the club in general, he was glowing with pride that 4 of the starting 11 for today's game have come through the youth system and one of those was also representing Malta’s U21’s.
I ask him if it’s disappointing that despite all the hard work that he, the club and the supporters group put in, the numbers that turn out for games is still very low?
He replies by telling me that of the last few years a betting scandal has been uncovered and the people of Malta can no longer trust the game of football.
“They do not know if what they are seeing can be believed” said Micallef.
The Sporting Director also adds that the club is linked with Sheffield Wednesday and their youth teams regularly compete in friendlies with one another.
Whilst I’m chatting, a raffle number is called out and everyone cheers, I’m not sure what the prize is, but I didn't win!
The second half begins much the same as the first with chances at both ends but ultimately lacking a bit of quality and some cutting edge.
If I was going to compare the Valletta Bank Premier League to a standard in England I’d probably say it was around League Two (Division Four in old money).
The basics are done well and they have good technical ability, but as you’ll hear in the interview with Carl, the national team, and in turn the league have adopted an safety first approach and “go out not to lose” mentality which does stifle the game somewhat.
In the second half, Hibs doubled their lead against the run of play, as a costly mistake in the midfield let the hibs striker run free to score.
It wasn't over though as Qormi got a goal straight back a minute later.
Then came agonisingly close to an equaliser before the final whistle.
Qormi F.C 1-2 Hibernians
As I said in some of the videos, I thought it was a little harsh on Qormi and their fans who sang throughout the game gave a really good account of themselves.
After the game we helped the supporters club put away their banners and flags as the vast majority of the crowd slipped away into the now pitch black night.
Thankfully (to avoid yet another bus disaster) Carl gave us a lift back to one of the main bus terminals.
While we were in the car we discussed the game, Football and Malta in general;
Malta, you were fantastic.
Thank you for having me.
Thank you for having me.
Thank you to the Qormi Supporters Club specially Carl, Kevin, Bradan, Jamie and John-Paul.
Hopefully the team on the pitch will match the dedication and intensity of the fans off it and they can avoid relegation back to Division One.
Until next time.