A career spanning across two decades came to an end last week as goalkeeper Sharon Costantino played her final game for Kirkop United in their league game against Birkirkara.
Goalkeeper Costantino has been an important figure for the progress of the women’s game in Malta, having been one of the players to form part of this movement since the start.
In a planning career spanning 24 years, Costantino made 333 domestic appearances at club level as she played with Planets, Luqa St Andrews, Birkirkara, Sta Venera Lightnings, Mosta, Melita, Gozo and Kirkop United.
“Having started my career when I was already 21 years old, I cannot be more than happy with what I managed to achieve over the past 24 years as a player,” Costantino told Sports Desk.
“Eight years as a national team goalkeeper, where I managed to record Malta’s first ever clean sheet at international level, on my debut.
“Moreover, I played in the UEFA Women’s Champions League with Mosta, was named MFA Best Player of the Year while at Melita and won all domestic competitions at club level – it was wonderful.”
Costantino recalls how she was introduced to the game of football when the Planning Authority formed a women’s team and a friend of hers had asked her to join them to complete the squad.
“I remember my first ever game with them, which was a friendly, and they put me in goal due to my height and ironically enough I managed to preserve a clean sheet on my very first game. Since then, I continued to train as a goalkeeper,” she explained.
Asked about her best memories during her career, Costantino made a reference to the 2011 Women’s World Cup qualifier against England, who were runners-up at the 2009 Women’s European Championship a few months earlier.
“For 90 minutes, we played in a professional environment, against a world-class team and in front of thousands of supporters,” Costantino explained.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity for us to face players that we usually admired on our television sets and some of them I still watch them nowadays as well.”
When Costantino started to play back in 1996, women players did not have enough opportunities to start training football at a young age in Malta.
“Back then, we did not used to have all the required facilities to do our football training sessions,” she said.
“Nowadays, the local clubs start to nurture girls from a young age and the Malta Football Association also helps in this progress as they start to pick girls for their Academy since the age of 10.
“I was always hopeful about the development of the women’s game and since the girls started to have this chance from a young age, I became more optimistic.”
Throughout her career, Costantino collected 30 caps with the Malta national team since making her debut on March 22, 2006 in a friendly against the U-19’s of the Italy national team, which included the likes of Sara Gama who is now the captain of both Italy and Juventus.
“Unfortunately for me, it ended when I broke my arm against Iceland around eight years ago,” Costantino explained.
“The national team was my motivation to carry on playing and I never had the intention to keep on playing after I have children.
Nonetheless, Pierre Brincat managed to lure me back into the game and thanks to his and my family’s backing, I resumed my playing career again.
When I look back at all the progress, I notice one thing most of all – there is more media promotion about the women’s game and this is not a minor detail for a person who back in the days used to be asked,”women’s football exists in Malta?”.
Family in goal
For Sharon, the biggest satisfaction is seeing a lot of girls engaged with the Beautiful Game. She sees herself in those young girls who are ambitious and are striving to play women’s football at the highest levels.
“Having a lot of young girls playing football reflects the growth of the women’s game in Malta as seen in the number of girls who pursue football careers overseas.
What I really would like to see most, is more clubs investing in women’s football – there were more women’s teams when I started football rather than now, in fact for some time the championship used to be divided in a First and Second Division.
It’s a pity that now our league is composed of just seven teams.”
Among the young girls playing football is Raisa Costantino, Sharon’s daughter, who is following her mother’s footsteps as a goalkeeper.
“My daughter always wished to play in my position and I was willing to support her decision from day one,” Sharon pointed out.
“I’ve been working with her since she had eight years and since she wore those goalkeeper gloves, she never stopped showing her abilities.
“For a parent, the biggest satisfaction is to have their children being successful in what they do and I hope that in coming years, I start to hear that Raisa reached higher levels than her mother.”
Throughout her career, goalkeeper Sharon learned to be persevered and determined, and this is one thing that she wants to share with the future generation of women players.
“Football is not only for men, but even for women because it is a game that embraces those who have passion and commitments towards this sport,” she underlined.
“Moreover, this game is one way to live a healthy life both as a person and as a player, and it is a platform that can help you socialise and nurture life values like discipline, commitment and leadership.
No one can deny a girl from the Beautiful Game.”
Photo: Debbie Debs Pisani.