Sunday’s Euro 2020 final between England and Italy at Wembley Stadium is a spectacle for every football fan across the planet.
For the Maltese tal-Ballun scenario the game will surely hold further significance. The local fans of the beautiful game will crave for this match with a sentiment that has been surely brewing since the second half of the 19th century and developed into an intimate affair with local football enthusiasm.
With the unification of Italy and the increased geo-strategic importance of Malta following the opening of the Suez Canal a new scenario developed.
As a result, two factions sprouted, which ultimately led to the formation of the first political parties. The Reform Party was all into change; therefore, embraced the ‘new imperialism’ emerging from Britain, and the Anti-Reform Party resisted the interference from Great Britain preferring the cultural relation developed through proximity with Italy, by then a proud nation; formulating its foreign sway.
The above setting paired with the introduction of the game of football itself no doubt influenced the antagonism that exists to this day between the followers of Il Calcio and the Premiership. Since the first match between England and Italy, in 1933, Maltese football followers enveloped themselves in the rivalry between the proud developers of Association Football and the upcoming World Champions propped up by regime politics.
That afternoon of May 13, 1933 proved to be a baptism of fire to the England vs Italy local rivalry. Anglo-Italo antagonism was at its height following the 1932 elections featuring Lord Gerald Strickland of the Constitutional Party, an anglophile per excellence and the pro-Italian Ugo Mifsud, of the Nationalist Party.
On that occasion, votes were cast to shape a nation’s identity and calling, with the language being one of the major trusts in the fervour generated. It was either Italian being reinstated as the single official language or whether il-Malti should be developed alongside English as the language of the state.
The game played at the Stadio Nazionale del Partito Nazionale Fascista, Parioli, Rome witnessed the English team being greeted by Il Duce and giving a Fascist salute while the Italian anthem was being played.
Nonetheless, the majority of the 50,000 spectators were quite hostile towards the team representing an empire they believed they were replacing.
To make some sort of amends, there was a party of circa 100 Maltese who travelled to Rome to support the English.
Most of the travellers who travelled to Rome were in fact Anglo-Maltese boasting surnames such as Borg-Brown or Savona Griffiths. The rest of the expedition was made up of Maltese who worked with the British services.
What is sure, however, is that the away supporters required police protection.
Back home in Malta the match captured the media’s imagination with local papers exchanging touts’ weeks before the match, with the game itself broadcasted on local radio in Italian.
The match ended with the share of the spoils in a one-all draw, both goals scored in the first half hour.
The Maltese support in Rome that day was acknowledged by the English FA, and a trophy was donated to the local football association.
Up to 2015 that same cup was played for in the Maltese Cup competition.
The first encounter between England and Italy will surely not even go past both squads and respective supporters.
By comparison Sunday’s match is not a mere friendly, but a final for a major tournament; England’s second only final appearance at such high level and Italy’s tenth.
The upcoming final will be the 28th time they are facing each other.
Eighty-eight years on, Malta’s relationship with Britain and Italy developed and changed drastically: economically, socially and certainly politically.
Nowadays, it seems that fortunately over the top bitterness which featured whenever these two national teams played a major final is losing its effect on the local young generation.
Still, whatever happens, this coming Monday some bragging rights will be earned in the workplace and among friends.