The way in which Floriana won the championship in 1961-62 was impressive.
The Greens went through 14 consecutive matches without dropping a single point. Yet, at the start of the competition, the Greens did not seem to be good enough to win the title The Irish however, kept on winning, and in the process, their play improved beyond recognition.
At the start of the second round, it was still a three-horse race with Sliema Wanderers and Valletta presenting a stiff challenge to Floriana. The Wanderers however fell behind when they lost the direct encounter against Valletta. This game had no parallel in the history of Maltese football.
It should have been an even fight between two of the best teams on the island, instead the game developed into a land-slide 7-0 victory for the Citizens. Yes, it’s true! March 18, 1962, went down in the history books as the worst day in the history of Sliema Wanderers eclipsed only by that horrible day in 1983 when they were relegated for the first time in their history.
It is bound to happen to any team sometime but when it does there is no consolation. To lose 7-0 is humiliation indeed and there is no other way to describe it. It happens and it happens to the best of them. However, when a club with the traditions of Sliema Wanderers loses with such a score then it will take years to finally fade from memory.
A look at the Blues’ formation that day makes one wonder how a team graced with players of the calibre of Alfred Debono, Robbie Buttigieg, the Bonnici brothers, Joe Cini, Maurice Walsh, and John Bonnett could succumb to such a heavy defeat. In football, however, everything is possible.
Valletta’s victory was a collective achievement. There was mastery in their midfield where Borg and Williams played the leading roles. Their defence was as solid as a rock but it was the forward line that excelled above all other departments. All five forwards distinguished themselves but the best of the lot were youngsters Tony Calleja and Paul Gauci both of whom played a blinder. That about sums up the game. All that remains are the goals that were scored in this order.
Hardly four minutes had passed from the start of the game when Mifsud cleared weakly a header by Calleja. The ball fell to Frankie Zammit whose left-footer went into the corner of the net.
Just one minute later, Frankie Zammit robbed Robbie Buttigieg off the ball, drew out Joe Aquilina and passed to Calleja who neatly lobbed it over goalkeeper Debono.
Six minutes later, the ball was back in the Sliema net. Joe Zammit shot hard at goal but his shot was blocked. The ball however went to Calleja who promptly lashed the ball into the net. In the 38th minute, Zammit exchanged passes on the right with Urpani and ran in with the ball before lobbing it over goalkeeper Debono. In the 57th minute, Calleja passed to Joe Zammit who centred perfectly to Frankie Zammit to hit goal number five.
Six minutes later, Zammit sent in another perfect cross into the centre and there was Gauci on the far wing to beat Debono with a fine header.
The last goal was scored by Josie Urpani who ran into Gauci’s inviting centre before slipping the ball into the net to close the day’s tally. Two minutes later however, Calleja almost completed his hat-trick but Debono flew across goal to save grandly. That perhaps would have been too much for poor Sliema.
It was a terrible blow for the Wanderers from which they never recovered and when they lost against Floriana, they lost all interest in the championship. The Greens saw much less of the ball than the Blues but they still managed to win by two clear goals. Against St Patrick’s Floriana’s luck smiled at them and a gift goal late in the game gave them an unmerited 2-1 victory.
Floriana’s direct clash with Valletta came too late in the season to make any difference. The two old rivals met on May 20, 1962, in the last match of the competition. The Greens had an invincible three-point lead over the Citizens and the match was no more than a formality. The only thing worth playing for was Floriana’s unbeaten run.
Many expected Valletta to go all out to spoil their rivals’ moment of glory. It was not to be however, because Floriana celebrated the championship with a rather easy 3-0 victory with two goals from Billy Dalli and another from Ritchie Sultana.
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