Soccer may reign in Malta, but one sport which is emerging is American Football. The Mediterranean island has various teams who there and then compete against each other in one day tournaments, sometimes also in the presence of an American team composed of American citizens who earn their livings in Malta. For these players, reuniting on the gridiron week in week out is a special feeling.
Malta American Football Association - Brief history.
The Malta American Football Association saw its beginning back in December 2015, when a group of people with the same interest, that of watching their NFL heroes in the wee hours of the morning, decided to give a try to their sport themselves.
Enthusiasm and hard work led the way for the first recorded American flag football training session on the island. This event was highly successful and gave a clear signal that this new initiative was a much needed one. For the many expats that attended, it was a much cherished slice of home that had a strong taste of nostalgia; for the Maltese players, it was the culmination of a curiosity for the game that they had secretly harboured whilst practicing the more traditional sports popular on the island.
It was not long before word about the project grew loud enough to attract the interest of the US Embassy. After a couple of meetings it was clear that the collaboration between the embassy and MAFA would prove to be a successful one. The US Embassy provided not only guidance and fresh ideas but also a generous $1000 in financial aid. This money was pivotal in allowing the organization to buy the essentials that included flags-much needed for more technical practice sessions- and the national American Football Kits.
The collaboration with the US embassy went beyond financial aid however. On the 8th of May 2016, the first ever American Flag Football tournament in Malta went down in the history books. The participating teams were three: the representatives of MAFA (today known as Swieqi Phoenix American Football Team), The Aloysian Tigers (a local team of young and promising athletes that had contacted MAFA and expressed their passion for the game) and a US Embassy team. The tournament was a success and (perhaps not surprisingly) the US embassy ended up victorious after winning a close final against the Aloysian Tigers who, despite their lack of experience, still gave the US embassy guys a run for their money.
MAFA continued to grow as the event piqued the curiosity of a handful of local TV and radio stations. Footage from the event went around the island and the association was flooded with requests by aspiring players who had no idea that American Football could be possible in Malta. The association can now boast with a variety of nationalities not only from continental Europe but also from South American countries. This proves once again (if any further proof was needed) that this beautiful game knows no race or culture but only the value of team spirit.
On May 18th, MAFA was proud to announce the third team to join its ranks: The Pembroke Panthers. The enthusiasm generated by the tournament fuelled these young athletes from a local high school to get together and start a team. The American Embassy also formed their own team and this means that to date MAFA is comprised of four local teams: Swieqi Pheonix, The Alosysian Tigers, Pembroke Panthers and the Malta American Embassy team. Considering that the American Football project started at the end of last year, this can definitely be defined as progress. Also, on July the 10th, MAFA organized it's second Flag football tournament which comprised the four teams together for the first time. It was an event which deliver high quality flag football and which eventually attracted new people to the ranks.
Meanwhile, as the biggest sports event takes place this weekend, precisely Super Bowl 51, the excitement dominates also the local American Football community who are eagerly waiting for the match between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons. VAVEL took some time to discuss the Super Bowl and the perfomances of their favourite teams with some of the local NFL followers:
''I guess my New York Giants have improved a lot since last season. At full health, they had the strongest defense considering how many games they won with a low-quality offensive line, which eventually cost us the play-offs. As per next Sunday, they are two well balanced teams. New England Patriots are always New England Patriots while Atlanta Falcons have the momentum and their offensive department can be fundamental for their cause. I think the Falcons will have the edge by 32-30 and Julio Jones will be the Super Bowl MVP'', Daniel Gauci - New York Giants fan.
''The best word to describe my Seattle Seahawks this season is inconsistency. This year was full of highs and lows ranging from beating the New England Patriots in Foxborough to scoring three points against the Los Angeles Rams. It was great to win the NFC West again (even though the division was so poor this year) and win a playoff game. However, the Hawks got what they deserved against the Falcons in Atlanta. Unless the Hawks make some signings on the offensive line and also in the secondary, they are set for a tough 2017/18 season. But as always, I am optimistic that Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll will find a way to get us to yet another Super Bowl. Regarding this Sunday's Super Bowl 51 in Houston, I pick the New England Patriots to win it in a tight game. Even though this Falcons team is very dangerous and explosive, spearheaded by Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonte Freeman under the eyes of Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan, I personally believe that the greatness of the Brady-Bellchick tandem should prevail. Even though I pick the Patriots to win, I affirm that it will surely be a close game that could go either way!'', Zach Sciberras - Seattle Seahakws fan.
''For my Miami Dolphins, this season ended in a disappointing way. Yet, considering the pre-season expectations, I think overall we performed very well. Adam Gase had a poor start after five matches (1-4) and afterwards players like Cornerback Byron Maxwell, Running Back Jay Ayai and Tackle Guard Laremy Tunsil were given more playing time and we went on to win the next six straight games, in particular against Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. Unfortunately, our Quarterback Ryan Tannehhill injured and despite veteran Matt Moore replaced him, we could not go further in play-offs. Nonetheless, clinching a play-off berth was a success for us. Regarding the Super Bowl, I predict that it will be a very close game with end to end actions, like Super Bowl 49. I think the New England Patriots are more experienced and disciplined and I think they will win 32-27, with Mohamed Sanu collecting a couple touchdowns and LeGarette Blount to run over 150 yards'', Michele Caruana - Miami Dolphins fan.
The future for MAFA and its local teams is challenging, but bright. The most fundamental aim is to help the present teams continue to recruit and evolve and to promote as much as possible any American Football activities that take place so that others decide to give it a try. Some local schools have also shown interest and enquired about the possibility of offering the sport as an extracurricular to their students. This latter development is very significant because schools should be a fundamental aspect of any long term strategy that the association adopts.
The ultimate goal is to have a fully fledged, full contact, American Football league that is covered regularly by local media and attracts an important number of spectators every weekend. Whilst this is ambitious, these local teams strongly believes it to be very doable because American Football is a sport that easily sells itself. By promoting the strong values of acceptance, respect and hard work that the sport embodies, MAFAs can ignite a new sporting culture on the island and make waves in the international arena by putting Malta on the European American Football map in the not so distant future.