The artificial turf and floodlighting system at the Pembroke Athleta Football Ground were officially inaugurated by Prime Minister Dr. Lawrence Gonzi and UEFA President Michel Platini on Wednesday in the presence of MFA President Dr Joe Mifsud and other distinguished guests. The project was co-financed by the MFA, UEFA HatTrick Programme, the Government of Malta and the club.
Following an audio-visual presentation about the history of the club, which was founded in 1962 as Athleta Juvenis, Pembroke Athleta president Alex Calleja delivered a short speech during which he explained how these facilities were a dream come true for the club. He said this project was only made possible thanks to the hard work of the club’s committee and the many volunteers, including committee members, coaches and parents, together with the Malta Football Association, the UEFA HatTrick Programme and the Kunsill Malti ghall-Isport.
The Pembroke Athleta president said that projects for the very near future include the building of a smaller-size artificial turf pitch together with general landscaping and embellishment of the surrounding area and the construction of parking facilities. For the futures, the club also plans to build a sports complex which will include two gyms.
MFA president Dr Joe Mifsud explained that three years ago, the UEFA Congress had confirmed the UEFA Executive Committee’s decision to establish the HatTrick II Programme. From this UEFA programme, the association obtained €2.5 million – €2 million for upgrading of facilities and €0.5 million for the building of the National Grassroots Centre. With a large number of clubs and member associations applying to benefit from these funds, the association decided to increase the funds by obtaining a bank loan of €2 million and then a further €0.5 million. Therefore the association made available for clubs a total of €4.5 million.
Thanks to these funds and also thanks to government entities like the Kunsill Malti ghall-Isport and the Good Causes Fund, clubs and football nurseries will benefit from a total of around €10 million which have been or are being spent in facilities.
UEFA president Michel Platini said he was glad to be attending this inauguration. He referred to the club’s history, saying that fifty years ago football was simple with children playing in the streets. Platini said that now that was no longer possible and therefore it was UEFA and FIFA’s job to provide associations and clubs around Europe and all over the world with the necessary assistance in order to develop facilities for football.
Michel Platini said that although the big competitions were important for UEFA, one of the main objectives of the European body was to have more children play football. He said that big competitions were helping in this matter as thanks to the revenue generated from these competitions such as the UEFA Champions League and the European Championship, UEFA could generate the funds which would then be made available for the development of such football facilities through the various programmes.
Prime Minister Dr Lawrence Gonzi said this new artificial pitch and floodlights at the Pembroke Athleta Football Ground was just the beginning of a development programme in the surrounding areas. The Prime Minister spoke about the government’s commitment in the development of sports facilities. He said the government believed in the value of sport and in order to increase participation, focus was turned on the development of facilities. Dr Gonzi revealed that land transferred to clubs and associations in recent years in order to build sports facilities had a market value of around €40 million.
A commemorative plaque was unveiled by Michel Platini and Dr Lawrence Gonzi and was then blessed by Fr Charles Tabone. The ceremony was followed by an exhibition match between the Pembroke Athleta senior side and Under-19 team.