Saturday, December 29, 2012

Malta at the very bottom – how true was that? Were they really weaker than, say, Iceland? Difficult to judge, for the dwarfs of football world hardly ever played competitive games against each other. The curious part is but one: most of the dwarfs had old clubs and old championships. The structure existed years before many other countries. At least on local level the history was rich and trophy rooms – crammed. Yet, domestic history had nothing to do with international success. Malta run the smallest league in Europe – along with Iceland, they had 10-team league. Smaller championship existed, but they were not official – San Marino, Andora, the Vatican, Northern Cyprus. Wales and Lichtenstein had no championships at all, their better clubs playing respectively in the English and the Switzerland's leagues. The smallest, but still a league – 2 relegated, Zebbuq Rangers, 9th, and Senglea Athletics, 10th. Both names meant little in Malta and absolutely nothing outside the island. Senglea did not win a single match, finishing with 3 points. Zebbuq Rangers had a chance to survive: they and Msida St. Joseph finished with 13 points each, and by rules goal-difference was not decisive factor. A play-off instead, which provided some drama – the match ended tied: 2-2 and went into penalty shoot-out. Msida clinched the victory 5-4 and survived, Zebbuq went down.

Generally speaking 5 clubs were traditionally stronger, but this is just an overview. Hamrun Spartans were 5th, yet closer to the relegation zone than to medals – they were 8 points behind the 4th. The next three clubs fought for 2nd and 3rd place – Hibernians missed the podium by 2 points and Valletta missed silver also by 2 points. Sliema Wanderers finished 2nd , losing only one match, but with 27 points they were far behind the champions. Floriana comfortably won the title with 33 points. They finished unbeaten and more – they won 15 out of total 18 championship games. Scored 53 goals, 10 more than the second best scorers, and allowed only 12 goals in their net. Truly supreme.
Panini gave different year for this squad – 1977-78, but who can really tell? Maltese teams and players are difficult to place in actual time, for they were of little interest to the world. At home, however, it was different – Floriana are one of the better Maltese clubs. They won their 24th title – very few clubs have so many even today in 21st century, when Valletta is considered the top club of Malta. Valletta were favorites back in the 1970s as well, but they had won only 9 championships by 1977. Floriana was way above everyone... fate is cruel, though - 25th title was surely coming. It did – in 1993. Floriana kind of faded after 1977.

The Cup final was an opportunity for a double – Floriana reached the final and given their excellent form in the championship, they were favorites. Valletta, having so-so season, was hoping at least to win something, but seemingly it should have been easy victory for Floriana. It was not – Valletta scored a goal and the champions did not.
Once again, the year of this photo may be wrong – the kit is the hint: Valletta played with fashionable Adidas in 1977-78, so may be this picture is from 1976-77. Valletta won the Cup for 4th time and from a time distance one thing can be detected: so far Valletta was not the dominant Maltese club, but among the better ones. But the club was on the rise. On the other hand, Floriana was going into decline. May be the Cup final of 1977 indicated the shift of power – easy to say now, but not back then.