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Birkirkara FC – the first champions of the new Millennium

1999-00 was without any shadow of a doubt the season of Birkirkara FC.

After three seasons in which they twice finished runners-up, the Stripes marked their 50th anniversary by becoming the first champions of the new millennium.

That season, the Premier League was split in two phases.

In the first part, all the teams played each other twice and then the points were halved before the teams were split into two sections.

The first six teams formed the Championship Pool while the other four took part in the Relegation Pool.

After the first phase, Birkirkara had notched 15 straight victories, two draws and one unexpected defeat against Gozo FC.

The Championship Pool started badly for Birkirkara.

The Stripes lost against Pietà and Hibernians and at one time it seemed that they would fail at achieving their goal. However, they recovered well from these setbacks and from then on, they never looked back and at the end they cantered home easy winners.

Much more was expected from Valletta. By their standards, the Citizens went through a disappointing season. Their expected challenge to Birkirkara never materialised and at the end, they could only finish in third place.

The Citizens could not have had a worst start to their league campaign.

In their opening two games, they lost both – 2-3 to Hibernians and 1-2 to Sliema Wanderers.

However, they recovered and in their next four games, they defeated Pietà, Naxxar, Gozo and Rabat. Then came the derby match against Floriana.

At that time, Floriana were enjoying one of their best periods for many a season. They even harboured secret ambitions of winning the championship. It was therefore very much like old times when the two old rivals met at Ta’ Qali.    

The National Stadium that day was filled with thousands of delirious supporters each brandishing the colours of their favourites. For the City fans however, it was a sorry afternoon.

The Citizens that day were in one of their worst moods. Their defence was craggy, and they had no ideas when they went forward. On the other hand, the Greens were in top form and in Rufin Oba they had a player whose creativity and killer touch extended beyond the norms of an artisan.

Midway through the first half, Zaytzev gave Floriana a deserved lead and Oba scored another just before the half-time whistle.

In the second period, Stefan Giglio pulled one back for Valletta but it was well in the run of play when four minutes from time, Antoine Zahra scored the final goal for Floriana.

Valletta lost only one more game before the end of the first phase and that was in the direct encounter against Birkirkara.

The Citizens started the second phase in second place, four points behind Birkirkara.

In their first game they drew 0-0 with Sliema but in their next three games they won full points against Floriana, Pietà and Hibernians.

The moment of truth arrived on March 19, 2000 against Birkirkara.

This was a do or die encounter which Valletta needed to win at all cost if they wanted to retain the championship.

The match lived up to expectations. It was a scintillating battle full of heart-throbbing moments which ended with Birkirkara hitting the jackpot to open a five-point lead over their nearest rivals.

Brincat opened the score for Birkirkara but Valletta’s hopes soared when they grabbed a late equaliser. Only one minute was left for play when Kris Laferla flashed in a header.

The City fans went mad with joy but in added time there was more drama in store.

The referee was already looking at his watch when Chucks Nwoko streaked through on the left but ended on the turf when he tried to squeeze through two defenders. The referee pointed to the spot and Ivan Zammit sent Sullivan the wrong way before planting the ball into the net.

That was the winner and the end of Valletta’s hopes of retaining the championship and the signal for Birkirkara to start their celebrations.

And what celebrations they were! Rivalling even those usually organised by the City supporters when their team hit the jackpot.

When Birkirkara were presented with the trophy, the valley on the day has never seen such celebrations. 

It was the start of a lucrative period in the history of the club which finally took it to the top sphere of the Maltese game.

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