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Tony Bezzina – fitting tribute to a perfect gentleman

Tony Bezzina (right) holds the championship trophy with Mario Muscat.

Carmel Baldacchino pays homage to Tony Bezzina, the Hibs’ president on behalf of all his friends and supporters on the sad occasion of his demise on Monday.

I have written many obituaries in my career. It is always sad to write about a person who has passed away even if he was not a close friend. Even more, it is heart-breaking to write about someone you have known and admired all your life.

Such a person was Tony Bezzina who I’m proud to say was a friend. Yes, a friend who has never let me down. For the last 43 years, Tony was president of Hibernians FC, the club which I have supported all my life and it was thanks to him that I have enjoyed so many grand moments during my years in football. Thank you Tony.

Forty odd years are a long time in football, especially if you are in the administrative side of the game. Some people, however, can absorb the pressures and tribulations of the job much better than others. One such man was Tony Bezzina.

It was exactly 43 years ago, that Tony took over the leadership of the club. This job was never easy since he had to work in the shadow of former club Presidents, Mr Carmelo Baluci, Tony Sammut and Lawrence Xuereb. These three men took the club from the doldrums and placed it on the road of success.

Tony Bezzina proved to be more than equal to the job and during his reign the club has emerged as one of the top clubs in local football.

Tony was the son of the late Salvu Bezzina and Frances Formosa. His father was another great benefactor of the club and his memory is still cherished by the people of Paola. Tony was born on November 13, 1948 in a house at Tal-Borg Street which had been the family residence for many years.

Bezzina’s youth has not been very much different from that of the average boy from Paola of the post-war period. He played football in the streets like any other boy and ran in the fields and open spaces of the war-ravaged town of Paola.

Tony was educated at St Aloysius College and St Edwards College. After he finished his studies, he joined his father in the family business.

Showing initiative and maturity well beyond his years, he advanced through the ranks until, when the time was ripe, his father passed over to him the company’s reigns.

Tony did not disappoint his father and together with his brother Victor, they built the company into one of the best Group of Companies on the Island.

Kind, quiet and unassuming, Tony became a legend in Paola. He was loved by the Paolites and respected by everyone connected to football.

The Hibs’ players especially have felt his generosity, and I am sure that they would be the first to admit that he was always forthcoming when they needed his help.

During his years with the club, Tony led the team through some of its greatest moments.

Who can ever forget the great Hibs’ team of the 1980’s when in four glorious seasons the club won three League Championships and two FA Trophy finals? In those days, Hibs were unbeatable. They went through 38 consecutive league games without losing a match. A record which still stands to this day and which has only recently been equalled.

However, it was not always a bed of roses. There were hard times as well.
Between 1983 and 1990 there were years of famine when the team was hovering on the brink of relegation. It was then, that his will of steel came to the fore.

A lesser man would have given up, but not Tony. He ground his teeth and plodded on until the bad times passed. Then, once again, he started to reap his reward.

Tony made Hibs one of the leading clubs on the island, second only to Valletta.

However, he was the first to acknowledge the help of his right-hand men, Ronnie Calleja, Jesmond Abela, the late Joe Cini and the rest of the people who served on the Hibs’ committee during his reign as president of the club.

Undoubtedly Tony Bezzina’s name will be always be linked with that of
Hibernians.

However, football was not his only past-time. For many years he was honorary president of the De Paule Band Club and took active part in social activities in Paola.

Some years ago, together with Ronnie Calleja, Tony was instrumental in forming the Hibernians Sports Association which has introduced various sports to the youths of Cottonera.

Thanks to him, basketball, volleyball and badminton have helped to keep the youngsters of the district away from drugs and other evils of the modern world.

There is no one in Paola more loved and respected than Tony Bezzina. This is not just because of the many honours Hibernians have won during his presidency. Tony became a cult figure in Paola. His achievements have been many.

However, it is not his deeds which have made this man great, but his character.

Tony was a rather shy and humble man. He shunted publicity but to his friends and colleagues, he was a symbol of steadiess and common sense. Above all, Tony was a gentleman, in and out.

It took a very strong man to survive all those years in football administration especially in Malta were the rigours of the job are much bigger than those of other countries.

Which is the easiest, managing a big and wealthy club or one which has no way of making money except, to receive handouts from benefactors?

He was married to Maria nee Bonello and had two children, Juliana and Ranier, with the latter already following in the steps of his father.

On behalf of all his friends, the grateful Hibs supporters and all the people of Paola, I extend my condolences to his family. Goodbye, my friend. My God give you eternal life.

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