Joseph Muscat and Simon Busuttil are both hoping for an Italian victory in the European Championships, which kick off today in France, but leaders of smaller parties are waving the altogether more unconventional flags of Iceland and Hungary.

As the majority of local football fans dust off their England and Italy banners once again, the Times of Malta spoke with a number of politicians and other local personalities about their favoured teams and memories of the international competition.

“My late father was obsessed with Hungary in the time of Ferenc Puskás,” said Marlene Farrugia, acting leader of the nascent Partit Demokratiku. “I’m a lifelong Holland fan but since they haven’t qualified, I’ll be supporting Hungary because of my father. I guess I’m always a bit unconventional.”

The Stade de France in Saint-Denis before the start of the UEFA 2016 European Championship in Paris, France. Photo: Reuters, Gonzalo FuentesThe Stade de France in Saint-Denis before the start of the UEFA 2016 European Championship in Paris, France. Photo: Reuters, Gonzalo Fuentes

In a rare show of unity, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition both plumped for Italy

Dr Farrugia will be doing her utmost to watch as many games as possible, even recording them if needs be, but it seems she’ll be the only one in the household doing so.

Her husband Godfrey Farrugia, the government Whip, said he does not support any football team and is “absolutely not interested” in the competition. “If I happen to be zapping and there’s a football match, I will change the station and watch something more interesting,” he said.

Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Arnold Cassola, meanwhile, will be hoping underdogs Iceland can pull off a surprise, showing solidarity, he said, with an island the population of which is even smaller than Malta’s.

Unsurprisingly though, most respondents said they would be lining up behind England and Italy. In a rare show of unity, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition both plumped for Italy, although the PM also tipped Slovakia as a potential surp-rise package.

Both had happy memories of past Euros, with Dr Muscat ranking a volley by Marco Van Basten against the USSR in the 1988 final as “my second favourite goal by my all-time favourite striker”, while Dr Busuttil recalled watching the 2008 final in a European Parliament committee room transformed into “one big Euro party”.

Away from politics, singer Ira Losco will also be supporting Italy, but only because her father is an ardent fan. “I think I’ll only watch the games if there’s a football village, and my boyfriend wants to go,” she said. “I’m really not into football.”

Fan zone near the Eiffel Tower. Photo: Reuters, Charles PlatiauFan zone near the Eiffel Tower. Photo: Reuters, Charles Platiau

There was a bit more enthusiasm from Archbishop Charles Scicluna, also an Italy supporter, who said the England-Italy rivalry in Malta created a unique atmosphere during such competitions.

“I spent 17 years of my life in an English college in Rome but never experienced the fervour for these two teams that I have in Malta,” he said.

England fans, however, were in short supply in our straw poll. Opposition Whip David Agius was one of only two to say he’d be cheering on the Three Lions, along with President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca.

“I remember my father following football, especially when there was a match between England and Italy,” the President said on the phone from Montenegro where she is on an official visit. “He would make such a big fuss, almost more than for the village feast. I was brought up in this environment. I cannot say I do not follow at all because my husband is also a keen supporter, but it’s more through him that I follow the sport.”

England fans can at least take heart in the fact that national team coach Pietro Ghedin has tipped the team as one of the “hot favourites” for the competition, alongside Belgium and behind France.

As an Italian national, he’s naturally hoping the Azzurri emerge victorious, some consolation for his own “bitter” European Championship memory: the final defeat against France in 2000, when he was assistant to coach Dino Zoff.

“We were 20 seconds away from being the tournament winners,” he recalled. “We all felt dead. I still can’t believe what happened that night. I think about it until today.”

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