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‘A dream come true’ as Mġarr, Melita earn early promotion to Challenge League

Melita won all their matches in the National Amateur League. Photos Stephen Gatt

Luqa St Andrews join pack

Mgarr United, Melita FC and Luqa St Andrews have all secured historic promotions to the second tier of Maltese football this month.

This season, the Malta FA launched a new format which saw the formerly known second and third divisions amalgamated into three groups within one division called the National Amateur League.

When contacted by The Sunday Times of Malta, Mġarr United captain Clayton Borg, who has been part of the squad since the club was at the bottom of Maltese football, referred to the club’s promotion as “a dream come true”.

“When I joined Mgarr, the club was in the third division and two years later, we made it into second. At that time, we would only see the first division (Challenge League) as a dream but because we have such a strong committee and squad, we’ve managed to write history,” Borg explained.

Greens coach Patrick Curmi echoed this, remarking that this has been something on their minds for a number of years.

“Last season, football stopped with games left to be played and because we were one of the challengers for promotion, we were very angry to have missed out because of COVID-19,” Curmi said.

“This group of players has been together for many years, always challenging for promotion. This season, the squad remained the same with the addition of a few promising youngsters.

“We all had the ambition to go up, including the committee and the fans. It is disappointing that this year, our supporters were unable to attend as I believe we would have filled up the enclosures for our games.”

Promotion was a dream come true for Mġarr United.

However, it is no secret that teams coming from what was the second division had been skeptical of the fact that lower division sides now had the chance to progress as much as they did.

Melita captain Jean Pierre Attard believes the second division had already been competitive in recent years. However, he admits the team’s aim was always promotion no matter what format.

“I was initially skeptical about the change in format because the second division was very competitive, so I didn’t see much value in combining all the teams into one competition,” Attard said.

“Nonetheless, we had a challenge in front of us and our target was promotion – once we got some momentum going, each win made us stronger and we always felt we were going to win every game we played.”

This rings true for the side as they are the only team across the three groups to have achieved maximum points throughout the group stage, with 36 points from 12 matches.

Melita FC coach Saviour Debono Grech emphasised that getting a promotion with the side was a ‘target in his coaching

“I have coached the side and its under-19s, with experiences at other clubs as well but I came back home to achieve my target of winning a promotion with Melita,” Debono Grech said.

Asked about the challenge of such a league format, especially in times of COVID-19, the Melita coach admitted that not knowing when the league was to begin had been a problem for him with regards to preparing his side for the start of the season.

“Waiting for the start date is a bit of a problem for coaches as I normally start early planning for the right pre-season. COVID-19 didn’t help either.

We had cases within the club and played a substantial amount of games with reduced players. At one point I had ten starters out at one time through COVID or injury,” Debono Grech said.

“Luckily the club has a good setup and players coming up from minors and I could include them, which was also one of my priorities. In fact, we have a very young squad – sometimes we had an average age of early 20s and around 17 to 18 players which are homegrown.

“I think it’s something very few clubs can handle, and we believe in our youngsters – you have to jump in the fire for them and they will pay you back.”

45 years of wait

As in its name, the Challenge League will be a tough nut to crack for these promoted sides. Debono Grech emphasised that while the level is completely different, his side will have to prepare itself differently after the end of the season which comes around the end of March.

“If we finish at the end of March, we’re going to have four months without football. That would create a big problem for all the clubs, but looking back at what happened before, this is a very difficult thing that we have to look at.”

While Mgarr and Melita were the first two sides to achieve promotion, Luqa St Andrews ended a 45-year spell away from the division which is considered the stepping stone to the Premier League, a week later.

The side confirmed their milestone after beating Mtarfa 3-0 last Sunday.
Following this, all three group winners will eventually face each other in a round-robin format, with dates still to be confirmed, to determine the winner of this season’s National Amateur League.

Added to this, the teams finishing in third, fourth, and fifth place in each section will be taking part in play-offs with the winner also promoted to the second tier of Maltese football.

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