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1980-81 – the golden season of Senglea Athletic

The 1980-81 season was memorable in more ways than one.

As we have seen last week, it was the last season played at the old Empire Sports Ground. It was also the first time the championship was played under the name of Premier League and it was the season when the new First Division League was introduced. The honour to win the first edition fell to Senglea Athletic.

1980-81 was the best season in the history of Senglea Athletic.

During that memorable season, the MFA introduced the Premier Division for the top eight teams in the league. A new First Division League was also introduced.

Senglea became the first winners of the new division, winning the league with 24 points out of a possible 28. The only team who was able to lower their colours were Qormi FC who beat the champions 2-0 in their second round encounter.

There were many great moments for the loyal Senglea supporters to savour. However, the best came when they beat their old rivals St George’s  1-0 and 2-0 in the Cottonera derbies. 

Other great moments were the 3-1 and 5-0 victorious against neighbours Vittoriosa Stars. All in all, it was a great campaign for Senglea. It was possibly the best ever season in the history of the club from Cottonera.

Senglea celebrated their success in style and the old city was awakened from its slumber by the merry shouts of its inhabitants. The Sengleans had a good cause to celebrate but there was more to come in the FA Trophy.

Senglea were drawn to meet Sliema Wanderers in the first round. Sliema’s long experience in the competition made them firm favourites to beat the First Division champions. 

The FA Trophy, however, is a great leveller. Time and again, the underdogs manage to take a bite out of the favourites. Once again history repeated itself.  Senglea, fighting for every ball as if their very lives depended on it, won a great game by a single goal margin.

Senglea’s unexpected victory over the Wanderers added spice to the competition and all eyes were upon them as they took on Żurrieq in the quarter-finals.

Żurrieq had a good season in the Premier Division and they were expected to beat the newcomers. Senglea, however, proved once again that they were no pushovers with another memorable victory.

Senglea took only 14 minutes to open the score as Godwin Cassar headed in a stupendous goal. Żurrieq retaliated but Senglea were up to them. The match was drawing to an end when James Marston scored to take Senglea into the semi-finals.

In the meantime, Ħamrun Spartans earned the right to meet Senglea in the semi-finals with an unexpected but deserved victory over Hibernians.

The Spartans were on song. It was a long time since the Reds had reached this stage of the competition.

However, all expectations were shattered when Senglea ran rings around the Spartans and beat them to the tune of four goals to one.

There was nothing but gloom for the Spartans but for the Sengleans, it was the feast of the ‘Vittoria’ once again. Their team was in the final for the first time in its history. Things could not have been better.

Senglea met Floriana in the final. The Greens reached the final with a 1-0 victory over their old rivals Valletta. 

It was a close match in which the Greens scored an early goal, which they defended against all the efforts of Valletta.

The final was held on Sunday, May 31, 1981. 

It was an inspiring end to the season with a game, which will long be remembered by the 8,000-odd crowd present.

Floriana won 2-1 but the glory went to Senglea. 

Perhaps the Senglea players never expected to reach such heights. 

For them, it must have been enough to reach the final. But thanks to their great fighting spirit, they made the 1980-81 season one of the most memorable in the past twenty seasons.

After suffering the first goal, everyone thought they would crumble, but withstanding all the pressure in the remaining part of the first half, they came out of the dressing rooms fighting like lions. 

They equalised and threatened to take the lead before Floriana finally sealed the issue with another goal.         

On the whole, this was one of the most entertaining finals since the war and went down in the history books as a splendid and memorable FA Trophy final.

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