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The Ħamsa Ċikk affair – Spartans win first title

St George’s FC 1913-14. The Saints were already celebrating their first championship victory when they fell victims to the manipulations of Floriana FC and the average-goal rule in what has become known in Maltese football as the ‘Ħamsa Ċikk’ affair.

At the start of the 1913-14 season, the clouds of war were hanging over our islands like a thick blanket.

Many of the usual football activities were disrupted, especially service football. The Civilian Football League, however, took place as usual. Unfortunately, football reporting in the newspapers was rather poor and very little information is available.

The results of the Civilian Football League were communicated regularly by the MFA but full reports of matches were scarce.

What little we do know is due mostly to old timers like the late Tom Hedley and Carmel Barbara both of whom have written extensively about this period.

Floriana opened their league campaign with a 4-0 victory against Melita-Vittoriosa.

It seemed that their winning streak was going to continue but all good things must eventually come to an end.

The end for Floriana came in their next game against Msida Rangers. The Rangers won 2-0 victory to inflict on Floriana their first defeat in the league after 15 consecutive victories.

This unexpected defeat caused havoc in the Greens’ ranks.
Accusations were hurled at some of their star-players who responded by refusing to play any more for the club. The team’s confidence was in tatters and in their next game, they lost 0-1 to Valletta United. With this defeat, Floriana lost all hope of retaining the championship.

In the meantime, St George’s beat Ħamrun Spartans 1-0, Valletta United 1-0, Senglea Shamrocks 5-0, Msida Rangers 3-0 and Melita-Vittoriosa 5-0. With only the game against Floriana left to play, it seemed that the Saints’ were coasting easily to their first championship victory.

During that season, the MFA introduced the goal-average rule in cases where the teams finished their commitments on equal points.

This rule, however, proved to be a source of trouble and embarrassment for the MFA. It also led to a hot dispute between St George’s, Ħamrun Spartans and Floriana.

It all started when St George’s were due to play against their neighbours, Melita-Vittoriosa.

For days before the game, a rumour spread around the island that St George’s had bribed the Melita goalkeeper so that he would let a couple of extra goals go past him.

There was really no doubt in anyone’s mind that St George’s would beat Melita but when the Saints eventually won 5-0, there was a wide cry of corruption and the famous ‘Ħamsa Ċikk’ affair was born.

So far there was nothing out of the ordinary in this affair.

Rumours of corruption have always been part and parcel of football in Malta. However, rather than letting their old rivals get away with their wheeling and dealing Floriana decided to do something about it.

Therefore, when the match between Floriana and Ħamrun arrived, the Greens took the field with a make-shift team so that the Spartans won with the high score of 11-0.

The MFA however, had enough. After an investigation, it suspended Floriana for one month for fielding a weak team and gave Ħamrun a 4-0 victory to bring their goal average in line with that of St George’s.

This meant that the Saints needed only a draw against Floriana to win the championship. A 1-0 defeat would have put them level on points with the Spartans with an equal goal average. A 0-2 defeat would give the championship to Ħamrun.

The all-important game was played on May 3, 1914 in front of some 8,000 spectators. The Saints were confident of beating Floriana but the ’Irish’ were prepared to go to any length to foil their old rivals.

Therefore on the eve of the match, they swallowed their pride and mended their differences with their established players so that they could turn out with their best eleven against St George’s.

Imagine the Saints’ surprise when instead of the make-shift XI which Floriana had been fielding that season they saw Ruġġieru Friggieri & Co. entering the pitch of the Mile End.

There was nothing they could do however but accept the situation.
For the first 20 minutes of the game, St George’s were all over their opponents and the Greens’ defence, aptly led by Friggieri was hard put to keep out the goal-hungry Cospicua forwards.

Then, Floriana suddenly changed their tactics and they started to gain the upper hand and at the half hour Salvu Tabone opened the score.

For the second half, Floriana pulled Borg back to strengthen their defence.

At the same time, St George’s in an attempt to score the equaliser advanced Sacchet leaving only Masu Hicks in defence.

At first, the Saints’ plan seemed to be working. Floriana were pressed back into their area but with about a quarter of an hour left for play, Ġużi Samuel dribbled through the weakened Saints’ defence, slipped past Hicks, dogged Sacchet and finding himself on the goal-line in an impossible angle to shoot from, passed the ball back to Xerri who promptly beat Flask with a grounder.

A few minutes later, the referee whistled for time and the Spartans found themselves champions without really lifting a finger.

It was no wonder that St George’s felt robbed of the title. They sulked, they stamped their feet but there was really nothing they could do about it except refraining from forming a team the next season.

The MFA had also learned an important lesson. Finesses like the goal-average rule do not work in Malta and the next season they discarded the controversial rule which was the cause of all the trouble.

The worst hit by this sordid situation was the Vittoriosa goalkeeper Ċikku Grima. He was never allowed to forget the incident and everywhere he went, especially at the Dockyard where he worked as a fitter there was always someone ready to call, ‘Ħamsa Ċikk’!

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