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Valletta City secure promotion to top flight in season 1936-37

The Valletta City XI that won the 1936-37 Division One B Championship and promotion for the first time to the top division of Maltese Football. Recognisable in the picture are goalkeeper, Manwel Azzopardi, il-Gejta and on his left, centre-half, Kelinu Azzopardi, Both players were then at the end of their long and successful careers.

In 1936-37, The First Division League was split into two sections.

In Section A, Floriana, Hibernians, Sliema, and St George’s competed for the championship while Sliema Rangers, Floriana Tigers, Valletta City, and Melita played for promotion to Section A.

A crowd of 6,423 paid for admission to the opening match of the B competition between the Tigers and Valletta City.
Unfortunately, what the public witnessed was not exactly what they had paid for. The Tigers took an early lead and from then on viciousness crept into the game.

Time and again, the Tigers found their combination cut to shreds by the vigorous tackling of the Valletta defenders.
The referee, in a futile attempt to keep order, sent off Dowling, of Valletta, and Paris, of the Tigers. Then, towards the end of the game, Valletta’s Vella and Debattista of the Tigers came to blows.

Other players joined in the fun and the game was abandoned with seven minutes left to play. The points were later awarded to the Tigers.

On Sunday, November 1, Melita beat their neighbours, Sliema Rangers, 1-0. The latter were favourites to win this game, but the Rangers’ superior thrust and experience came to naught in the mud of the Stadium.

Melita played the ball from man to man and on that day, the better team won. Melita’s goal was scored by Maurice DeCesare. Then at the start of his career, DeCesare was soon to develop into a classic outside-left.

Sunday, November 15 was not a day for goalkeepers.

The heavy rain made the ground heavy and slippery. The heavy pitch did not suit Joe Nicholl, of Sliema Rangers, but young Wenzu Gabaretta, the Tigers’ goalkeeper, gave a spectacular exhibition.

Rangers won a fast-clean game 4-2 because their forwards were always ready to shoot, especially after the interval, when the score was still at 1-1.

Dame Fortune smiled at the Rangers and Gabaretta spoilt an otherwise impressive performance by letting a simple shot from Brincat pass under his body.

This was the end for the Tigers and, although Tanti equalised a few minutes later, Rangers scored two quick goals to seal their victory.

Melita drew 2-2 against Valletta City to go to top of the table.

At one time, with the score 2-1, it seemed that the Amateurs would take both points from this match. A final rally by Valletta, however, did the trick and, with only a few minutes to go for full time, the City equalised.

On Sunday, December 8, Melita held on to the top place of the table with another 0-0 draw against the Tigers.
After this somewhat good start, Melita’s challenge dwindled and they lost all their remaining matches to finish bottom.

The first round was completed on Sunday, January 17 with the Valletta vs Sliema Rangers match. Showing great determination, Valletta won by the odd goal in three. This victory left City in the runner-up spot, a position from which they could have aspirations for the title.

Valletta celebrated the feast of St Paul with a victory over the Tigers. The teams were evenly matched and a draw seemed imminent. However, Formosa scored the only goal of the game and Valletta climbed to the top of the table.
Sliema Rangers kept up their hopes with a 2-0 victory over Melita and then continued on the winning trail by beating the Tigers 2-0.

Finding himself unmarked, Podesta closed into the goal and, keeping perfect control of the ball, slammed it hard past Gabaretta.

Kaburek then showed his class with a perfect through pass which left Podesta‘ completely unmarked and the centre-forward had no problem scoring the second goal.

Valletta City needed only one point from their last match against Sliema Rangers to win the championship and promotion to the Premier Division. The Rangers, however, did not surrender the title without a struggle. They had as much of the play as the City and up to the end it was still anybody’s game.

With a quarter of an hour to go the Rangers, realising that a draw was not enough for them, moved Zarb up to the forward line. Valletta were forced to defend.

The Rangers buzzed around Valletta’s penalty area but in a quick counter-attack, Callus beat his marker and centred perfectly to Vella who, completely unmarked, nodded the ball into the net.

That was it! Valletta won 1-0 and the capital club was once again represented in the top Division.

That season, several faces of well-known Valletta stalwarts could be seen in Valletta’s line-ups. However, the most famous name in those lists was that of goalkeeper Manwel Azzopardi and his namesake Kelinu Azzopardi.

Both players were by then in the twilight of their careers.

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