At the start of the 1987-88 football season, Naxxar Lions did not hide their determination to reach the top sphere of the Maltese football league after a wait of 39 years.
Naxxar’s last spin in the top division was back in the Forties. The Lions were relegated in 1949 after a three-year stay.
Naxxar had a fine team in those days and they gave their much more rated opponents a good run for their money.
When the Lions were relegated, their fortunes continued to drop and after two uneventful seasons in the Second Division, they were relegated to the Third Division.
Naxxar were anchored to the lowest division of the league for 34 seasons before they won promotion to the Second Division in 1985-86.
This time, the Lions’ team was made of much sterner stuff and the next season they won promotion to the First Division.
By now, everyone was taking notice and in 1987-88, the punters were all backing them to reach the Premier Division at their first attempt. Their backers were not mistaken.
Led by their ambitious president, Michael Zammit Tabona, they dominated the proceedings to win the championship comfortably and a place in the Premier Division for the first time in their history.
The only team, which managed to keep pace with Naxxar that season, was Rabat Ajax. The latter made a quick return to the Premier Division after only one season in the lower division.
However, despite Naxxar’s commanding lead in the final placing their path to the Premier League was not without its pitfalls.
Naxxar opened their league campaign with a 0-0 draw against Rabat. Then, they continued with victories against Żejtun Corinthians, St Patrick’s and Tarxien Rainbows.
At that stage, Mqabba entered forcibly the title race.
Mqabba defeated Rabat and Naxxar 1-0 and 3-2 respectively in consecutive matches to open up the race not only for themselves but also for Gudja United.
However, neither of the two new challengers were able to last the pace, leaving Naxxar and Rabat to coast home past the post.
After losing to Mqabba, Naxxar defeated Gudja 1-0 in a close encounter, which could have gone either way and drew 3-3 with Senglea Athletic.
With a 1-0 victory over their main challengers, Rabat sealed their place at the top of the table and from then on, they never looked back.
Naxxar went on to beat Żejtun (2-0) and St Patrick’s (5-0) respectively before they unexpectedly lost against Tarxien Rainbows 3-1.
However, this was only a hiccup. The Lions went on to win the rest of their matches to win the championship and complete the feat of winning promotion from the Third Division to the Premier Division in three consecutive seasons.
As far as the relegation issue was concerned, there was hardly any struggle at all.
With only one team being relegated that season, the axe fell on St Patrick’s. After losing their first three games, the team from Żabbar became firm favourites for the drop.
After losing the direct second round encounter against Żejtun there was no avoiding relegation despite winning five points in their last three matches.
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