England and Italy are facing off in the Euro 2020 final. All of Malta is taking notice with fervent fan bases desperate for bragging rights over one another. But have you ever wondered why it’s such a passionate and rivalrous topic amongst Maltese, but not amongst the country’s themselves?
The rivalry between English and Italian football team supporters in Malta is probably one of the oldest rivalries to date. The crux of this strife competition between them is not one to be taken at face value however, and definitely runs deeper than the issue of football.
It’s a question of both language and class embedded in our national history. Our political and cultural history has close ties to both England and Italy, and it’s reflected in our undying support for their national football teams.
The Language and Political Question
In 1880, Fortunanto Mizzi was adamant on replacing Italian, as the language of bureaucracy and administration, with English. This also set the tone for the inevitable Anglo sentiment which came with such a replacement.
Our political duopoly stems from Lord Strickland’s conception of the Constitutional Party, which stood for Malta remaining under Britain’s imperialist rule. On the other hand, Mizzi’s National Party advocated for a more Italianesque modus operandi.
The political situation described above then spilled over into the controversial language question, that between English or Italian.
Post World War II, we see the demise of Italian fascism and the break up of Strickland’s Party. This greatly diluted the Italy-England divide which had been present on our shores for almost a century.
It is safe to say that the rivalry between the two teams is a memento of the political and linguistic turbulences which plagued the better part of our island’s 19th century.
The Three Cities is an attestation to this; one can still find such places canvased with English flags – an ode to their identity. This can be formerly associated with the multitude of workers who took up employment with the Malta Dockyard. On the other hand, many Maltese lawyers and bureaucrats pledged their allegiance to Italian culture, and inadvertently, their football teams.
A survey done by MaltaToday prior to the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, respectively, states that people those who tend to side with Italy are classified as under the age of 34, are university graduates and vote for the Nationalist Party.
Those siding with England were classified as blue and white-collar workers, over the age of 55 and having attended up to secondary education.
By 2010, England supporters had surpassed Italy supporters, by 3%. England stood at 34%, whilst Italy garnered a 31% approval.
There is a stark parallel between the 37% of Nationalist party voters who support Italy, alongside the 20% of Labour party voters.
Are young people bucking the trend?
With that being said, times are changing, and the younger generations see a relatively diverse mix of supporters, even as far as supporting teams from across the globe, such as Brazil.
Youngsters tend to ally themselves with Italy more, statistics show that the cohort between the ages of 16-34 shows a support of 44%. On the other hand, 32% favoured Italy.
On the contrary, the cohort of those aged over 55 sees 37% siding with England, while only 22% siding with Italy.
Performances have left their mark. England has performed pretty poorly in international competition up until recent memory, giving Italy the edge with their 2006 World Cup in still fresh in one’s mind.
Beyond that, a majority of Maltese people grew up watching and being exposed to RAI and Italian football, which is reflected in its growing popularity.
Are we just compensating for own poor perfomances?
Maybe, we’ve only got ourselves to blame for our strange love for The Three Lions and the boys in blue. Our staunch support for foreign football teams could very well be symptomatic of Malta not having faith in their own domestic football teams.
The men’s national team has never made it an international tournament – making football crazy Malta hungry for representation on the international stage.
However, the women’s team have overall done us proud in their own right. Towards the latter part of 2020, Malta’s women’s team has moved up 16 places, making the most progress for FIFA’s Women’s World Ranking, in the month of December 2020.
Are we giving these sportswomen the recognition that they deserve for their impressive work? Maybe it’s time we started paying far more attention.
Seeing as this Sunday there is the notorious final between England and Italy, one should keep an eye out for any ancient rivalries taking place.
Do you support England or Italy? Let us know in the comments below!