Saturday, June 21, 2014

Malta at last. Hardly any real changes at the bottom of the football world. Two relatively unusual clubs won promotions from Second Division.
Qormi FC, formed in 1961 from the amalgamation of Qormi Youngsters and Qormi United, was small club even by Malta standards. They debuted in First Division in 1967-68 and so far played a total of five seasons, quickly relegated back to second league football. Their 6th attempt to establish themselves in top flight was coming, but most likely it was not to be different than the earlier ones.
The other promoted club was a newcomer.
Founded in 1950, Ghaxaq FC was unheard of club belonging to the village with the same name in South-Eastern Malta. Their biggest success so far was exactly this promotion. As for surviving in first division, it was unlikely, yet, a great moment for the tiny club.
The bottom of the 10-club first division was occupied by real outsiders: the combined record of both clubs in the relegation zone was still lower than the 8th placed St. George's.
Birkirkara earned 8 points this season and finished 9th. Hardly a surprise – the club was really weak before 21st century.
Vittoriosa Stars, hailing from the town of Birgu, was one of the oldest Maltese clubs – founded in 1906 – but with checkered history. Winners they were not. Second division is more likelier place for them than top league. Their season was pure misery – they won a single match and tied two... 4 points. Birkirkara finished with 8, and St. George's at 8th place was a real giant with 13 points... The name of the last team in the league sounded as a cruel joke.
Not much excitement up the table. More or less, two club competed for the title.
Sliema Wanderes finished 3rd with 24 points, but they were not really participating in the race for the title. Rather, bronze was their aim, besting Floriana by a point and Hamrun Spartans by two. The rest of the league was far behind.
Hibernians (Paola) won 11 matches, tied 4, and lost 3. With 26 points, they were well above the bulk of the league and competed for the first place. But they lost it and had to be satisfied with silver.

Maltese players were practically unknown outside the island, but perhaps Muscat rings some bells... local heroes often mean nothing abroad.
Hibernians were strong, but Valletta FC were stronger. 12 victories, 4 ties, and only twice they lost. They were best in all departments: scored the most goals in the league by far – 44 (Hibernians with second best strikers, still scored under 40 – 39 goals). Their defense was supreme: only 6 goals they allowed in the 18 matches of the season. Floriana had the second best defense – 13 goals. At the end, Valletta finished 2 points ahead of Hibernians: their lead does not correspond to the overwhelming numbers they made, but in a tiny league it was not really possible to build large lead.
Once again champions – their 8th title. And it was not all.
Valletta FC reached the Cup final. The other finalist was Floriana. They had rather weak season - 4th in the league – and winning the Cup was important for one of the most successful Maltese clubs.

Floriana had enough 'argument' – a whole bunch of players with very well known names in Malta – Micallef, Farrugia, Sultana, Xuereb, some of them really clans, for they produced top players for many generations. The boys fought hard, but lost the final 2-3.
The dramatic final was won by Valletta FC and they finished with a double. From a distance – nothing surprising: whatever foreigners knew about Maltese football, was Valletta FC, for they were regular champions and participants in the European club tournaments in the 1970s. The most famous Maltese club... to their 8th title, they added 5th cup.

All trophies to the strongest, right? More national team players here; more 'dynastic' names too – two guys named Farrugia... add two more playing for Floriana and one with Hibernians colours. Well, those playing for Valletta got all the trophies. The victories of Valletta FC appeared normal, traditional, unchanging... how wrong. Valletta FC were not even nearing the success of two other clubs: 8 titles and 5 clubs was really nothing compered to Floriana's 24 titles and 14 cups, and Sliema Wanderers' 21 titles and 15 cups. Valletta FC were clearly the best Maltese clubs in the 1970s and remained so, but their victories were relatively new and they had long way to go... in fact, the lead of the other two clubs was so massive, even now, in the second decade of 21st century, Valletta FC is behind.