The 1982-83 football season was a season when the tradition was completely thrown overboard.
It also saw the revival of Ħamrun Spartans after many years in the doldrums and the emergence of Rabat Ajax and Żurrieq.
These two clubs with very little football traditions reached the top division and gave notice of their intentions to stay. They made it clear from the start that nothing would make them budge.
In the circumstances, the inevitable had to happen. One of the established clubs had to give way. The result was a desperate game of musical chairs that left everyone bemused and bewildered.
It was, to say the least, a controversial season that started the slide of the two giants of Maltese football, Sliema Wanderers and Floriana.
After that season, football in Malta was never the same again.
During the summer, Ħamrun brought in Edwin Farrugia and Raymond Xuereb from Floriana, goalkeeper Joe Brincat from St George’s and Carlo Seychell from Valletta.
These veterans added experience to a young and talented squad.
Led by their shrewd president, Victor Tedesco, the Spartans marshalled all their forces into one bold attempt at the championship crown.
The Spartans were in a class of their own. They won three points off their arch-rivals Sliema
Wanderers and Floriana and scored doubles against Żurrieq, Rabat Ajax and Valletta. The only team they failed to beat were Hibernians. It was a merited success after a wait of nearly 36 years.
At the start of the season, Hibernians were firm favourites to complete a championship triple. It was, however, a negative season for the champions.
In a campaign full of surprises, they had not only to surrender their title but up to two minutes from the end of the competition, they were still in deep relegation trouble.
Sliema Wanderers were also amongst the favourites to win the championship.
Up to the end of the first round, the Blues were in the runners-up position, three points behind the leaders.
Close behind them were Hibernians, followed by Żurrieq, Rabat, Floriana and Valletta. Żebbuġ were already marked for relegation.
It was clear at that point that if Rabat or Żurrieq would not give way, then one of the established clubs would be relegated.
Midway through the second round, the Spartans were coasting home towards the championship. The race was already over, but the relegation issue was still wide open with all the other clubs still fully involved. It was now a scramble for safety.
Every game brought fresh hopes or anguish as the case might be. Valletta, who for many weeks hovered near the bottom of the table, struck a good patch and were the first to escape from the clutches of relegation.
The fight continued with Żurrieq and Rabat winning precious points off their more-quoted opponents. The turning point was reached when Rabat beat Sliema Wanderers 3-0 and Żurrieq ended Hibs’ fantastic 39 match unbeaten run with a 2-1 victory.
These unexpected results left Hibernians, Sliema Wanderers and Floriana at the foot of the table. With only one game left for the end of the campaign, Floriana and Hibernians had 13 points and Sliema 12.
Hibs were due to meet Sliema on Sunday, April 17, 1983, the feast of St Publius.
A draw was enough for Hibs while a defeat would condemn Sliema to the First Division.
Floriana in the meantime, had to wait in the wings. A draw between their rivals in distress would have forced them to win a point off Ħamrun Spartans to save themselves.
The new champions, however, were in no mood to dish out favours, especially in their celebration match.
A draw between Hibs and Sliema would probably have resulted in a decider between Sliema and Floriana.
That was the situation. Whatever happened, one of the big clubs would be relegated for the first time in its history.
Everyone from Paola or Sliema now know how Hibs rose to the occasion to beat their bogey team from Sliema. Ġużi Xuereb scored the goal which saved Hibs and condemned the Wanderers to the First Division.
I remember Father Hillary Tagliaferro describing that awful moment on television.
After the match, he went down to the dressing rooms to try to console the players and officials. Although a staunch Hibs’ supporter, he was deeply moved by the air of desolation which reigned amongst the Sliema players and officials.
It is always sad to see a famous club falling on hard times. It was so for the Wanderers. For many years, the Blues were one of the main pillars of Maltese Football.