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Sunderland’s Foundation of Light strengthens bond with Malta

Malta women’s national team coach Mark Gatt (centre) poses with players and officials from Sunderland’s Foundation of Light.

Year after year, the Maltese women’s game continues to export talents overseas which helps the local movement grown and get more recognition across Europe.

While most of the players leaving the Maltese islands usually settle in Italian football, there is another place which continues to have a strong connection with the local women’s game.

Sunderland’s Foundation of Light has already welcomed two Maltese female players to their project and it is anticipating more Maltese to join their programme in the near future.

Established in 2001 by Sir Bob Murray CBE – former Sunderland chairman, the Foundation of Light’s mission was to address the social challenges in the North East through the Beautiful Game.

The Foundation of Light is based at the Beacon of Light in Sunderland has an outreach across centres across the city, South Tyneside and County Durham.

Creating better opportunities and better lives for the communities is the objective, which coach Steven McClarence echoed.

“The Foundation of Light is linked with Sunderland as we work in the community to improve people’s lives,” McClaren – Head of the Foundation of Light Women’s Scholarship – said to Times of Malta.

“This is the project which Maltese youth Emma Ciantar Piccinino is on right now as we provide a dual pathway between education and football.”

Piccinino was part of the Malta U-19’s women’s national team that clinched a historic promotion to League A in the European qualifications.

The former Raiders player is in her second year at the Foundation of Light where she plays for Team A in the National Football Youth League.

While her first year was hampered by two long-term injuries, the young Maltese has bounced back by putting on
important displays for the Foundation of Light, collecting seven goals in 15 games.

She returned to her native country with the Foundation of Light side for a one-week training camp they organised in Malta which include daily training sessions with local coaches and friendly matches against Maltese sides, both boys and girls.

“The experience at the Foundation of Light has been pretty great for me so far,” Piccinino said.

“In the first year, I did not play a lot but this season I have been featuring on a regular basis and that boosted my confidence on the playing field.

The facilities here are top-notch, the team is very welcoming and the experience of juggling between education and training has been very smooth for me.”

On May 12, Piccinino will be featuring in the National Football Youth League cup final where she will cross swords with fellow Maltese Alexandra Gatt as Sunderland take on Barking Abbey.

Regional Talent Club

The match will be held at Bolton Wanderers’ venue – home of a former Premier League side – which underlines the commitment of English FA towards women’s football.

“Reaching the final is a huge accomplishment for us because it is an important game to play,” the Malta U-19’s player said.

“I am both nervous and excited to play in the final but as a team we are looking to represent Sunderland on such a
platform.”

The pathway provided by Sunderland sees its beginnings in the Regional Talent Club which hosts children from the age of 10 to 16. The next step would be the Foundation of Light where the players stay there until they are 19-years-old.

In order to enhance this development even more, Sunderland will now launch their U-23’s team which will provide an important opportunity for these female players to continue to play at a good level while they remain in the radar of the main team, in which Maria Farrugia features in England’s second-tier (FA Women’s Championship).

“Maria Farrugia came over around five years ago, she pursued her education programme here while becoming an established player with the first team,” McClarence explained.

“The connection with Malta forged during the Justin Haber Academy years with one of the players coming being Farrugia herself, aged just 14, and we immediately spotted her talent.

Emma, on her part, is doing really well with us considering that she is at the back of a bad injury. She continues to work towards full fitness while being an important player for the team that has reached the cup final this season.”

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