Luqa St Andrews will be playing in next season’s Challenge League for the first time in 45 years after earning promotion as champions with a 2-1 win over Melita in the Championship playoffs last weekend at the Victor Tedesco Stadium.
Luqa were the last group winners from the three National Amateur League sections but made up for it in the round robin playoffs against Mgarr United and eventually Melita in the final.
Following their victory, the club had said in a post on their social media that the success “was not a flash-in-the-pan occurrence, but an accumulation of years of work by various people”.
This presents itself very clear through its players, some of whom have been at the club since they were playing in the lowest division of local football.
Team captain Lydon Sciberras, a Luqa local who has been part of the side’s ranks since childhood, told The Sunday Times of Malta that getting such a promotion has sentimental value to him.
“It’s an honour for me personally that after all those years in the third and second division, we’ve finally made it to the first division (Challenge League),” Sciberras said.
“I believe we’ve written our names into the club’s history books and I’m definitely honoured to have been the player to lift the trophy as a champion for my hometown.”
This personal success comes also to coach Edmond Lufi, who joined the club at the beginning of 2020-21 season. The former Melita coach got his trophy against his old side but admits his greatest satisfaction comes from the turnaround Luqa managed to make from the previous season.
“Undoubtedly, winning the Amateur League for us was a great satisfaction, even for me personally because it was my first season here and when you take into consideration that in 2019-20, the team finished last in the standings, this was a huge improvement,” Lufi said.
“I believe it was also a big win for the president and committee – very hardworking people who did everything to satisfy my needs so that eventually the team was a success.”
As with all clubs in the new league format, Luqa were ‘guinea pigs’ of this new system this season. Sciberras explained how despite it being new to them as players, they still believed they could reach their target.
“I think the change in format helped the less-quoted clubs to make that huge leap. Even though the league was supposed to be played on three rounds and ended up being played on two because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I still believe that as a team we would reach our club’s aims,” the 24-year-old said.
His coach echoed this, saying that even though the format was something new for everybody, it was still a success.
“Obviously, the number of games is not as much as before but with the introduction of the Championship and Promotion playoffs – having that extra team going up with the first three – was a great idea,” the Albanian remarked.
Asked about the promotion’s importance for the club, Lufi insisted it was an historic event.
“One cannot forget that Luqa were previously in the first division 45 years ago, so the wait has been very long and the promotion has made waves not only among the people at the club, but also among the locals who have been waiting all these years.
“It’s disappointing that supporters were unable to attend and watch the league unfold, but I still believe they enjoyed it and that it’s satisfaction for them too.”
With Luqa making this big step towards the Challenge League, Lufi admits that apart from the pleasure of going up, the promotion gives him quite the headache of getting ready to up the ante for next season.
“Obviously, the leap between Amateur League and Challenge League is quite big and one has to think and seriously prepare for it. There are certain sacrifices which have to come from everyone, both players and committee,” he said.
“The level is much higher than what we played against, so obviously we will need to strengthen certain departments within the team. The team will need some new players, but I do believe that the base we built this year is already there and we’ve got a good mix of players, experienced and also a number of promising youngsters.
“Another positive is that in the Challenge League we are able to have three foreign players and if they are of a good level and fit into the team well, I believe we can have a positive season.
“We’re not aiming to get the immediate promotion, or place at the top for now. Obviously if that happens we’d be happy with it too but because this is a new experience for most of the players, this means that our main aim will be to gel with the Challenge League teams and build up experience step by step.”
The league may be over however, Luqa will have to wait ahead of April 11 to find out their opponent in the Super Cup final, as the National Amateur Cup final between Żurrieq and Msida St Joseph, scheduled to be played yesterday, was postponed due to recent COVID-19 restrictions.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic has stopped everything at the moment, but we’re confident that when the situation improves, this challenge can give the squad a boost for their morale,” Lufi explained.
“We are looking forward to the final because winning the double would be of great satisfaction. However, with the success we’ve had now, we’ve already written a part of history.”