One of The Greatest Games - Sunday 4th April 1949
Luqa St Andrew’s humble Valletta
Valletta FC are now the undisputed Kings of Maltese Football. On the other hand, Luqa St Andrew’s are a humble Second Division club. Yet once upon a time things were very different.
n 1948-49 the Saints were enjoying a short spell in the top division of Maltese football. During that season Valletta and Hamrun Spartans were rated as equal favorites to win the championship.
Sliema, Floriana and to a certain extent Hibs, were expected to give the favorites a good run for their money but the other clubs were not given much chance of upsetting the apple-cart. St George’s, Naxxar Lions and Luqa St Andrew’s were involved in one continuous struggle against relegation.
This, however, was a season full of surprises. Up to the halfway stage Valletta were leading the table but then, a series of-upsets took place which swung the championship Sliema away.
Yet, despite Valletta’s topsy - turvy form during the second round of the competition, no one gave Luqa St Andrew’s a chance when the two teams met on Sunday 4th April 1949.
The day before, Sliema beat Floriana 1-0 to win the championship, but the Valletta-St Andrew’s encounter was still important.
The Citizens needed a victory to win a place in the prestigious Cassar Cup competition while St Andrew’s needed a victory to escape relegation. The City fans however, considered this game as nothing more than a formality. After all, Valletta had already beaten St Andrew’s 4-0 in the first round.
In football, however, nothing is certain. The Saints shrugged off their inferiority complex and went into the game as if their very lives depended on it. They played a great game. Their halfback line, composed of Portelli, Scifo and Briffa, covered every inch of ground and they simply refused to be beaten.
In the first half, Luqa took the game into their opponents’ half and their speedy forwards continuously created panic in the City’s rearguard.
Wenzu Gabaretta, considered by the history of Maltese football, had a nightmarish game. He was, to say the least, unsteady and although he made a couple of first-class saves he also made many mistakes. Time and .again the Saints’ speedy forwards caught the City defence napping. It was therefore no surprise when four minutes before half-time .Gejtu Psaila the son of the famous Gejtu Psaila il-Hacca, opened the score for St. Andrew’s.
During the first ten minutes of the second half the Saints could have easily doubled the score.
Once Gabaretta misjudged the flight of the ball but it was miraculously cleared off the line by a defender. A few minutes later Zarb hit the post, but to be fair the post also denied Guzi Vassallo at the other end. Yet the Saints were not to be denied. Ten minutes into the second half, Formosa raced forward catching the City defence on the wrong foot. He passed the ball to the unmarked Gejtu Psaila who found little difficulty to beat Gabaretta with an angled drive.
Valletta tried to rally. They pulled Charlie Bennetti back in defence and Attard went forward to add more punch up front. This move however did not bear fruit. The Saints grew in stature as the match wore on and try as they mightb Valletta could not get past them.
As luck would have it, Hamrun Spartans were due to meet Naxxar Lions in the second match of the afternoon. Hamrun stood to gain from Valletta’s embarrassment because a victory for Luqa would put them in the Cassar Cup.
Needless to say the Spartans made the best of this God-sent opportunity to taunt their archrivals. Another curious coincident was that Luqa St Andrew’s played with the same colours as the Spartans. This continued to add spice to the situation.
Encouraged by the delirious Spartans supporters, the Saints increased their efforts and the desperate Valletta players could not pierce their stubborn resistance.
Pawlu Vassallo hit the post for Valletta but although the same
player reduced the arrears a minute from time this served no purpose.
As Mr Hewinson sounded the final whistle the Hamrun side of the Stadium exploded in a kaleidoscope of red and black flags as homage to the gallant St. Andrew’s players.
There were tears in the eyes of some of the Saints players. They had saved themselves from relegation and did the Spartans a great favour.
For the record
April 4, 1949—The Empire Stadium, Gzira - The League Championship
Luqa St Andrew’s vs Valletta FC 2-1
LUQA ST ANDREW’S: Degiorgio, Milan, R Camilleri, Portelli, Scifo,
Briffa, J. Camillqri, Formosa, Zarb, Gatt, Psaila.
VALLETTA FC: Gabaretta, Pearson, Micallef, Sciberras, Muscat,
Attard, Pace, Guzi Vassallo, Salvinu Sãhembri, Charlie Bennetti,
SCORERS: Psaila (2) (Luqa St. Andrew’s); Pawlu Vassallo (Valletta).
REFEREE: Mr Hewinson.