Journalist tracks down distraught Maltese child footballer from 1990 photo

Heartwarming photo taken during tournament in Sweden

Photo: Peter Widing

Photo: Peter Widing

A Swedish journalist came to Malta a few months ago to fulfil an unusual quest: tracking down the distraught footballer in a 1990 photograph taken by a former colleague of his.

Anders Bengtsson first saw the photo, taken by Peter Widing, in 2006, when he was working for a football magazine. It was one of nine framed photos on the wall, and showed a young boy weeping with frustration, perfectly framed by two blonde boys victoriously throwing their arms up in the air.

He had often spoken to the photographer – by then a close friend – about it, wondering what had become of the three boys, but Mr Widing committed suicide in 2016 – prompting the journalist to actively track them down, seeing the quest as a tribute to him.

Trawling through old newspapers, he eventually narrowed it down to the Gothia Cup, in which 937 teams from 42 countries took part. It proved relatively easy to track down the two Swedish boys – Markus Gelner and Mattias Dixner. But identifying the boy in the centre proved to be a bit harder.

The Swedes thought that the shot could have been taken when they were playing either Germany or Malta – and Mr Bengtsson sent the shot to former coach Edgar Tonna, who had been heavily involved with Maltese youth football at the time.

Kevin Fenech in action now.Kevin Fenech in action now.

And to his great joy, Mr Tonna identified the mystery boy as Kevin Fenech, dubbed “the Maltese Paul Gascoigne” by a Swedish newspaper because of his dribbling.

The story turned out to be even more heartwarming than Mr Bengtsson could have imagined. Mr Fenech had stopped playing football a few years after the photo was taken but took it up again when he was 17, and now plays for Naxxar Lions.

Mr Fenech had kept the newspaper clipping comparing him to Gascoigne – his hero at the time – but never had a copy of the photo that Mr Widing had taken.

“I had three or four photos of that game, but not that one. Mr Bengtsson published the story a few months ago online – but it was in Swedish and I have to say that Google Translate did not help much,” he told the Times of Malta, with a laugh.

He is now awaiting a copy of the printed magazine from Mr Bengtsson but was thrilled to know that the story was out on The Guardian.

“You know that we won that game 3-1! But I was so upset when we conceded a goal. We won our group and didn’t lose a game before we went out against that other Swedish team. You should have seen me then. I think I cried for two hours after that game. An old Swedish man felt so sorry for me that he bought me a large ice cream.”

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