The 2002/2003 National Futsal League is the fourth one in succession for the Malta Football Association. At first, it was not easy to get going since previous attempts concentrated mainly on participation by member clubs which were already heavily committed in all other levels of competition. The Times asked John Farrugia, Futsal Commission Malta FA, for his views.

It all started in 1999 when three University students, who had organised the unofficial Dr Stanley's Workshop five-a-side league, contacted the Malta FA.

They had made an instant hit, but the competition, they argued, was becoming too much of a commitment for them with little time to spare at their disposal. They asked for assistance or whether Malta's ruling body of football was willing to take over and run the competition itself.

"The Malta FA immediately took this opportunity without hesitation," Farrugia said. "It took us little time to realise why the five-a-side league was such a huge success. All teams involved represented groups of friends who, without too much formalities or administrative stress, just met on match days to play their favourite game."

The Malta FA was cautious at first and acted wisely. The principle of friendship was kept to ensure continuity and further solidify the spirit of Fair Play.

"New regulations were gradually introduced," Farrugia, also a Malta FA vice-president, said.

"A group registration form was created and it was decided that teams are only administered by one representative instead of the usual committee. Obviously, the Laws of the Game remained those applicable and approved by FIFA."

The current season is half-way through. In all, 39 teams are taking part, split in three divisions. A knock-out competition is also contested annually. The Second and Third Division matches are played on artificial turf pitches in Zabbar, Zebbug and Gudja.

Corradino Pavilion standards

The First Division league is held indoors at the impeccably-kept Corradino Sports Pavilion which boasts standards that can easily meet international requirements.

At Corradino a family atmosphere prevails. Here, friends, wives and kids feel very comfortable and follow proceedings in suitable and ideal environs. A characteristic of the local five-a-side competitions is the sporting spirit that prevails in all matches, practically. Foul language is conspicuous by its absence and the atmosphere is congenial. A true family sport.

Referees are provided by the Malta FA after undergoing special Futsal courses. However, there is a need for more specialised officials.

"Apart from the usual availability of our active referees, it would certainly be of great benefit if a special category for Futsal officials is created," Mr Farrugia said.

"For this reason, the association would welcome and ready to help those who show interest in becoming five-a-side football referees."

At any level of sport, the ultimate goal is always a national team. In this respect, the Malta FA has been evaluating the possibility with a view of participating in competitions outside our shores one day.

Farrugia recently attended an international Futsal conference, organised by UEFA. It clearly emerged that this game is completely different from the one contested by 11 players on each side.

"I immediately realised that before any participation at international level much has to be done in all aspects of our game," he said, "especially in club competition, which constitutes the basis of a future national team.

"During the conference it was established that experience in 11-a-side football does not really compliment the Futsal game being played today.

"On the contrary, youths starting serious technical and physical preparation at Futsal level may find this experience of great assistance should they turn to the big game."

The priority of the Malta FA now is to concentrate on upgrading the basic principles at its competitions before embarking on international participation. The first steps in that direction have already been made and new courses, tailored for a better approach and preparation, are planned.

The will is there and the response from clubs is encouraging. The road ahead is a long one but five-a-side football in Malta is set to stay.