Despite being one of the lowest ranked nations in the world, the Republic of Malta has had a long-standing affinity with football.
Having previously been under British rule until the 1960s, it comes as no surprise to find that many Maltese people are huge fans of the Premier League.
Manchester United unsurprisingly have an extremely strong presence in Malta, while several other top-flight teams have plenty of fans there.
International football is also hugely popular in Malta, although supporters of the home nation often switch allegiances when major tournaments are staged.
Italy and England are backed passionately in Malta, with locals and ex-pats coming together to support one or the other during European Championships or the World Cup.
With that in mind, we take a closer look at the top football teams supported in Malta at both club and international level.
European big guns dominate the landscape
There are a large number of British and Italian ex-pats living in Malta, which explains why several clubs from those two countries are so popular there.
Given their massive global appeal, it comes as no surprise to find that Manchester United have a very loyal following in Malta.
The Manchester United Supporters’ Club in Malta was founded in February 1959 and continues to boast a strong membership.
Sir Matt Busby approved the club’s launch a few months after the Munich air disaster and it still operates with official approval from Old Trafford.
Juventus also have a big following in Malta, with one of its main supporters’ clubs boasting well over one thousand members.
They acquired an abandoned bar in 2012 as a base for fans and have subsequently been official recognised by Juventus as the biggest group of supporters overseas.
Premier League interest on the rise
The boom in interest in the Premier League since its inception in 1992 has inevitably led to a rise in the number of Maltese people who support its teams.
The Liverpool Supporters Club Malta Branch was established in 1995 and has since gained Gold Status from the club.
They have their own base in Mosta in the northern region of Malta and have regularly welcomed Liverpool players to official functions there.
Chelsea also have a fan group based in the same town, while Arsenal have an official base for supporters at a sports bar in Santa Venera.
Manchester City’s emergence as a major force in English football has also not gone unnoticed, with fans gathering at the Paul’s Cactus Bar in Bugibba to follow the team’s fortunes in recent years.
However, the group are currently searching for a new base after the bar’s owners confirmed they were retiring after a 24-year stint running the venue.
Valetta top of the pile on the home front
While plenty of people in Malta follow top teams overseas, the island is also home to a vibrant professional league.
The Maltese Premier League was contested by 12 teams last season and currently ranks 46th out of 55 members in the UEFA coefficient.
Sliema Wanderers and Floriana have won the title a record 26 times, while Hibernians clinched their 13th championship in the 2021/22 season.
However, 25-time champions Valletta FC have the largest fanbase in Malta, with around 15% of supporters naming them their favourite domestic team.
Their most successful season was in 2000/01 when they won all six competitions run by the Malta Football Association.
Things have not gone to plan in recent times, with the club recording successive seventh place finishes over the past two seasons.
Malta conflicted by international football
As we mentioned earlier, Malta was previously under British rule until its citizens voted for independence in 1964.
There are still plenty of British influences to be found on the island including driving on the left-hand side of the road and the British-sounding first names of many Maltese people.
However, given its close proximity to the island of Sicily, there is a close bond between Malta and Italy. Each of these links inevitably spill over into international football.
When it comes to European and World Cup qualifiers, Maltese football fans collectively get behind their own nation during each campaign.
Malta’s record of never qualifying for a major tournament then leaves many supporters switching to their ‘second team’ when the tournament starts.
In light of the country’s diverse history, it is a question that has the power to divide family and friends – do you support Italy or England?
A recent online social media poll highlighted there is little to choose between the two teams, with the Three Lions just about edging the vote.
With Italy missing out on qualification for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, it will be interesting to see if England pick up more support in Malta during the tournament.
Conversely, that conflict between family and friends could lead to some interesting debates whenever Gareth Southgate’s team are in action!