Football in Malta is run by the Malta Football Association and was introduced to the Maltese Islands during British rule in the mid-19th century. The sport at the time was new to England, and was used as a means of entertainment for the soldiers stationed in Malta at the various barracks around Malta at the time. In 1863 a football association was formed which governed rules and regulations for this quickly changing sport, which was still in amateur competition stage and played in an un-scheduled format until 1909 when a league format was introduced.
The association runs the national football team, as well as administering the Maltese Football League and the Maltese Cup for club sides.
The first Maltese championship in the 1909-1910 season was won by Floriana. The league regularly changed in numbers as teams changed administrators, dropped out of the league, and new teams re-entered. Up until the season of 1939-1940 this first league remained the only league in Maltese football, and was called the Maltese division one. Sliema Wanderers and Floriana dominated, winning all but four championships up to 1940. The Maltese football league trophy was implemented in the 1935 season which Sliema Wanderers and Floriana continued to dominate up to the Second World War between them.
Unfortunately due to the Second World War, the league had to break-off since many Maltese players were drafted in to the defence of the island during the early 1940s when the Maltese archipelago were heavily involved in the North Africa conflict due to its strategic position in the Mediterranean sea.
Normal league activity resumed in the 1945, after the end of the war with the league format of four teams joining including Sliema Wanderers and Floriana. The Maltese football association league format soon changed however, to a multiple tier format as from the 1946 season. The passing of the North Africa conflict saw the Maltese football associations largest interest with fifteen clubs registering to join the Maltese FA in the 1940s, doubling the size of the number of registered clubs within ten years. Many of today's familiar names joined the league including Valletta and Hibernians
Interest in the Maltese league continued throughout the 1950s, 1960's and 1970s with fifteen more clubs joining the league including Birkirkara FC in 1950 . It was however Hibernians and Valletta who put together a good challenge to Sliema Wanderers and Floriana, winning eight championships between them, and three league trophies.
The 1980s saw the monopolization of Sliema Wanderers and Floriana finally come to an end with four different clubs taking most of the honours in this decade. The Inauguration of the new national stadium, Ta' Qali could have been a reason for this, with a large re-structuring of the Maltese league program to coincide with Maltese football's new impressive home. Hibernians FC went on to win the Maltese league championship in 1981 and 1982, Rabat Ajax (formed 1930) won in 1985, and 1986, however the real surprise came from one of Malta's oldest clubs, Ħamrun Spartans who won the league three times in 1983, 1987 and 1988, and won a five league trophies. Floriana did win the league trophy in 1981, although unfortunately were relegated to Malta's second league in the season of 1985.
The last decades of the century saw the league format expand to its fourth tier, now with fifty clubs registered in the league. A diverse range of clubs now sharing the trophies in the Maltese league's top tier to contribute to an entertaining and high quality semi-professional football league. Valletta enjoyed a golden age in the 1990s winning five championships and four league cups. A re-juvenated Floriana won the championship in 1993, as well as two league cups, and Sliema Wanderers, Ħamrun Spartans and Hibernians also picked up notable honours.
At present there are a number of clubs with the resources and capability of winning the championship trophy, which is now called the Maltese Premier League trophy. Birkirkara FC are the notable new force in the Maltese league, after winning their first championship in the year 2000, and the team from Malta's largest town has regularly picked up honours since propelling itself into the history books. Other teams to have made relative impact were Żurrieq in the 1980s and Valletta in the late 1990s.
The first Malta Football Association Premier League (1st Division) 1909-1910
Currently the Maltese national and official system consists of 53 teams within 4 tiers. These are the Maltese Premier League, the Maltese First Division, the Maltese Second Division, and the Maltese Third Division. They are all currently sponsored by the Bank of Valletta. The FA Trophy is a knockout competition for all clubs taking part in league competitions in Malta and Gozo; the winners play the Premier League champions in the Maltese Super Cup.
Other football competitions run in Malta include:the women's football league: First Division
the Youth League - Commonly known as the Minors' League
the Maltese Cup known as the F.A Trophy
the Maltese Super Cup - played between the winners of the Maltese League and Cup
the Youth Leagues (not to be confused with the previous one) - organised by the Youth FA for boys aged up to 17
In the latest decades, particularly the 1990s the Maltese leagues have not boasted of high attendances except for particular derby matches or league deciders. This has often been attributed to various reasons, including the higher quality of foreign leagues (especially the Italian Serie A and the English Premier League), slow paced football, low interest, relatively unknown players, lack of professionalism and perceived corruption. This has improved since the promotion of Qormi to the top tier, a team which has had a strong following ever since getting promoted. A phenomenon also occurred in the lowest tier, where Zejtun Corinthians and Naxxar Lions, two sides from relatively large localities, started to push for promotion from the Maltese Third Division during season 2009-10. This ended up in a rivalry between the two teams who boasted stronger squads when compared to the other Third Division teams, thus attracting larger crowds than usual. However attendances remain relatively low in numbers. It is important to note that very few statistics are available.
Most Maltese people prefer to watch English and Italian leagues. This traces its beginning to the nation's political past, where in the 1930s a hot political issue was the Language Question, i.e. whether Malta had to adopt either Italian or English as an official language. This created pro-British and pro-Italian factions within the Maltese, virtually halving the population in two. This rivalry now remains subtly in the nation's main political parties, but also in football, where as said before Maltese prefer foreign leagues to the Maltese one. During World Cups Maltese generally side with either the English or the Italians. Popular foreign clubs are mainly Man Utd, Liverpool, Juventus, Milan and Inter. Popular national teams apart from their own are mainly England and Italy, with Brazil in the third place, followed by Germany and the Netherlands to a lesser extent. These foreign fandoms generally divert attention from Maltese football to the detriment of the Maltese leagues and the Malta national football team.