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A Defender for Malta

Unknown Tuesday, October 5, 2010
For a country with such strong historical and cultural links with England, one where the popularity of the English game is evidenced by the presence of supporters clubs for the likes of West Bromwich Albion and where there are sporting clubs named after Wolves, the almost complete absence of any British players in the Maltese Premier League over the last two decades might seem surprising.

In truth, that’s hardly the case. Not when you consider how much cheaper it is to bring in Nigerian, Eastern European or Brazilians players over English players. Not to mention that players tend to be technically better as well. That is why you have to go back to the early part of the nineties to find the last Englishman who really made an impact on the Maltese game.

That player was George Lawrence, or ‘Chicken George’ as he was known at Southampton, where he spent a good portion of his career. He won two consecutive league titles between 1993 and 1995, scoring twenty-five goals in a Hibernians side that was managed by another Englishman in Brian Talbot.

Now that same club is looking for repeat. For the past three seasons they have been managed by Mark Miller, a former Newcastle United trainee who spent most of his career in Malta before going into management, where he has even been in charge of the national U21 side. Upon his return to club management three years ago, Miller lead Hibernians to the title but then endured a torrid time last season when they finished sixth.

In order to avoid a repeat, Miller has opted to go back to his roots, signing two players from Scotland – Paul McManus and Richard Hart – alongside defender Matthew Clarke, after he was released by Bradford. Clarke has enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular career, one that has been spent in the lower reaches of English football with Halifax, Darlington and Bradford. Hibernians will offer him what probably amounts to his last chance at glory. Winning the league title is their main ambition for the season and it is why they have gone for a defender of Clarke’s experience, something which should set him apart in this league.

The initial signs are encouraging. Hibernians won the pre-season Carlsberg Tournament, beating champions Birkirkara in the process, and if their three British imports can keep up the form they’ve shown so far, then they certainly have the potential to end the season as champions. And put Englishmen on top of the Maltese football once more.

This article originally appeared on Les Rosbifs, a site dedicated at following Englishmen playing football abroad.
 
Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer