England welcome Malta to Wembley this weekend as they look to build on their opening round victory in Slovakia. And while we’re right behind the Three Lions, we caught up with Louis Agius of the South End Core, Malta’s largest supporters group, to talk about away days, memorable moments and all things Maltese!
Find out what he had to say below…
Ladbrokes News: Hi Louis, could you start by telling us a bit about the South End Core?
Louis Agius: The South End Core is a group that drums up the support for our national team across a range of sports including rugby, waterpolo and, of course, football.
The group was formed specifically for one match back in 2007 against Turkey which fell on Victory Day, where we celebrate victory over the Turks after the Ottoman empire tried to invade Malta back in 1565.
That day we managed an incredible 2-2 draw in front of a jam-packed stadium.
LN: When will you be travelling to England? Talk us through the your journey to and from Wembley.
LA: Our fans began heading to the UK on Wednesday and Thursday, but the majority (including me) will be leaving on Friday morning, arriving in London around 11am. From that moment the party atmosphere will begin!
On match day, we’re meeting at 11am at The Torch and by 3pm we will start our march towards Wembley Stadium accompanied by drums, trumpets and the 400 flags we’re bringing over with us.
It’s a real festive occasion for us, and that’s what we’re here for. The Maltese people have been waiting for this fixture since 1971, the last time we visited Wembley!
A few of us will continue the journey to Lithuania in preparation for Tuesday’s game, but most of the fans will fly back home on Sunday and Monday.
LN: How many people will be travelling with you?
LA: 2000 of us will be present to give our support to Malta, that’s the largest expedition of Maltese fans on foreign soil ever!
It might not sound like much, but when one considers the population of our country (400,000), it would be the equivalent of 265,000 England fans travelling to follow their side.
We may be outnumbered, but we will make ourselves heard.
LN: What’s been your favourite away day to date?
LA: All away matches bring with them a particular moment that you will cherish forever, but my personal favourite came in Modena, Italy, two years ago.
400 of us travelled to the town which had recently been struck by an earthquake. We prepared a huge banner which read “Forza e Corraggio, Da Malta un Abbraccio”, which translates to “Be strong and have courage, hugs from Malta”.
As soon as the match finished, we headed out of the stadium and were met by all the Italian fans waiting for us, applauding us and wanting to exchange shirts and scarves.
It was and will always be a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life.
LN: How would you rate the standard of Maltese football? Would you say it’s improving?
LA: Definitely. We still have miles ahead of us to cover, but one can see progress.
At club level there’s certainly been an improvement, especially in European competitions. Birkirkara FC made history this year by becoming the first ever Maltese team to make it as far as the 3rd qualifying round of the Europa League, eliminating Hearts in the process.
Valletta also gave a very good account of themselves in a Champions League qualifier against Red Star Belgrade, narrowly losing out to the Serbian outfit.
The introduction of seven foreign players to each team has also raised the level of the game, and our national side are getting much more respect from opponents.
Generally, we’re difficult to beat on home soil. That’s ignoring the 5-1 defeat to Scotland last time out, where we felt a couple of game-changing decisions should perhaps have gone our way.
LN: Who should England fear most from the Maltese squad?
LA: I think the English only have themselves to fear! There will be a lot of pressure on them to win, and while we see them as a wounded team right now, there’s nothing more dangerous than a wounded beast!
We’re just hoping the Three Lions will unleash their wrath in another match!
LN: What are you expecting from your WCQ campaign?
LA: Our group is one of the toughest, and it’ll be very difficult for us to chalk up points.
Avoiding last-place will be an achievement for us, but I am sure our players will do their utmost to make themselves noted in this group.
Lithuania (whom we defeated recently in a friendly) are probably the most realistic opponent we can get something out of in this campaign.
LN: And finally, could you give us a prediction for Saturday’s game?
LA: Well, what I’d love to happen and what I think will actually happen are two completely different things!
I’d be happy if we walk out of Wembley with our heads held high, having given a good account of ourselves.
If that happens, we can truly say our mission is complete!
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing