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Champagne for Rabat Ajax and relegation heartache for Floriana FC in 1984-85

The 72nd edition of the national league was one of the most memorable in the history of the competition.

It was certainly one of the most interesting campaigns of the post-war era.

Every match was vital and as the competition progressed, seven of the eight Premier clubs were involved in both the race for the championship and in the relegation battle.

In the end, only four points separated the champions from the relegated team.

That season apart from Ta’ Qali, four matches out of 52 were played at Marsa, while another two were played at Pace Grasso. This was the first and only time that the old Paola ground hosted Premier League matches.

Valletta started their defence of the league title on Tuesday, October 16, 1984 with a 0-0 draw against Hibernians. 

In their next game, Valletta defeated Sliema Wanderers 2-1 in a very competitive and intriguing game. With both teams opting for an attack with three strikers, the game was bound to produce action and drama.

Michael Taliana in his first game for Valletta, helped by the impish Nardu Farrugia and Joe Curmi provided the striking power which gave the points to Valletta.

Play kept flowing to and from until five minutes into the second half when Wilson slipped past John Buttigieg before passing to Farrugia who found little difficulty to slip the ball home.

Sliema retaliated and the City fans went through some heart-throbbing moments when first Goddard and then Gatt hit the posts.

Valletta, however, soon recovered and in a quick counter-attack, Farrugia turned the ball square to Wilson who had the easiest of tasks to hit the ball home.

To their credit, Sliema kept trying and eight minutes from time their efforts were rewarded. Prentice directed a free-kick towards Goddard who headed into the net.

The final whistle, however, found Valletta still holding on to their slim advantage.

This rather good start promised a lot for the future but at that point Valletta hit a bad patch which saw them gather only two points from five matches.

The Citizens lost miserably against the league leaders. At that stage of the competition the teams were all clustered together in mid-table.

Anything could happen. A victory could take a team to the top of the table but a defeat in the same game would plunge the team to the depths of the table.

On Saturday, February 17, Żurrieq beat Ħamrun Spartans 2-1 in the most controversial match of the season.

Referee Twanny Agius was harshly criticised for his control of the game. This was nothing new. Referees cannot please both sides and one team or the other is always disputing his decisions.

Refereeing is a thankless job but luckily, referees soon get used to senseless criticism. This time, however, events took a much more sinister turn.

During the night of February 20 and 21, a bomb was placed on the door step of Mr Agius’ residence. It was a violent and idiotic act, which shocked the whole sporting fraternity.

The members of the Malta Referees Association, however, were not satisfied with statements. They wanted protection, and in an extraordinary general meeting, they decided to take drastic action.

In an attempt to draw the attention of all those concerned, they decided to boycott the Premier League programme of Saturday and Sunday February 23 and 24, 1985.

Unfortunately, the MFA took a different view of the situation. The council wanted the league programme to go on as planned, no matter the cost.

Therefore, after appealing to the referees to suspend their action, they brought referees from England. The referees were outmanoeuvred and the following weekend they were back in action.

March 24, 1985 will always be remembered by the followers of Maltese football.

In the first game of the afternoon Żurrieq held Ħamrun Spartans to a 0-0 draw.

This meant that Żurrieq would keep their place in the Premier Division and condemn Floriana to the First Division.

At the same time, Ħamrun lost all hope of forcing a decider with Rabat for the title. In the next match, Rabat drew 0-0 with Sliema to clinch the championship.

It was one of the most dramatic afternoons in the history of Maltese football. One hundred and eighty minutes of first-class football produced no goals, but they proved to be decisive for both ends of the table.

The result was championship champagne for Rabat and the sour dregs of relegation for Floriana for the first and only time in their long and glorious history.

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