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Sliema Wanderers prevail in last championship before the start of World War II

In 1939, with the start of the Second World War hovering over Europe, the league was started late in November.

With the absence of Floriana, who for some reason decided not to take part, Sliema were favourites to win the championship. However, they were expected to be given a good run for their money by St George’s.

The most-awaited match of the league’s first round was obviously that between the two contenders.

A few days before the big game, the Saints were strengthened with the signing of Ġużi Brincat Il-Forfor from Ħamrun Spartans while Sliema signed George Bond, the ex-Millwall and Floriana centre-forward, to replace Salvu Sammut L-Għarawri who surprisingly changed his loyalties and defected to St George’s before the start of the season.

Sammut was followed by Harry Edwards and Effie Borg who also signed for St George’s.

On Sunday November 12, 1939 a huge crowd witnessed a feast of fine football. St George’s drew first blood when Salvu Sammut beat two defenders in the penalty area and squared the ball to the centre for Cassar to nod into the net.

The Blues reshuffled their team. Tony Nicholl moved from inside-left to centre-forward to add more punch to the attack.

The move worked well and a quarter of an hour into the second half, Ġużi Gauci, Is-Sosi sent in a high ball into the penalty area. Edwards came out to collect, slipped, and the ball went past him into the net. It was a soft goal but enough to enable the Blues to share the spoils.

With the first-round match between the favourites finishing in a stalemate, everyone expected the destination of the title to be settled in the second-round encounter. Before they reached that point, however, there was more heartburn for the Saints. With Floriana out of the competition, the age-old bogey which haunted St George’s every time they played against Floriana was transferred to the Tigers.

In the vital match against the amateur team from Floriana, the Saints enjoyed territorial advantage for 89 minutes but in their only attack of the game the Tigers scored what proved to be the winner.

With this defeat, St George’s lost contact for the moment with the league leaders but when Sliema unexpectedly drew 1-1 against the Tigers, the Saints once again found themselves within range of the title.

Everything now depended on the second-round match between the leaders. The Saints needed a victory to force a decider for the title.

The game was a thriller. St George’s scored two early goals.

Sliema, having nothing to lose, applied the pressure until George Bond reduced the score just before half-time.

The second half was all for Sliema. The Saints’ defence was put under tremendous pressure but it held on and although the Blues kept hammering at goal, they failed to equalise. Those last 45 minutes must have seemed an eternity for the Cospicuans.

The decider was naturally given a big build-up in the newspapers and despite the bad weather and the growing fears of war, a crowd of over 7,000 spectators were present at the Stadium on Sunday May 31, 1940.

St George’s were confident of yet another victory over their rivals and the zone of the ground reserved for their supporters was packed with red and white flags.

On the other hand, the Wanderers knew that past results counted little in football and they were right.

The Blues attacked from the very first kick, giving the Saints no chance of settling down.

After only a quarter of an hour, George Bond hit in the first goal. Then, eleven minutes into the second half, Effie Borg handled the ball in the area and referee Billy Mock did not hesitate to point to the spot.

Tony Nicholl scored from the spot but a few minutes later,, Sammut hit the post with a shot on the turn and the unmarked Scerri had all the time in the world to finish off.

This goal gave St George’s a new lease of life.

For the rest of the game they attacked for all they were worth, but the Blues managed to contain their fury.

At the end, the Wanderers were still leading by that one-goal difference.

St George’s had once again fallen at the last hurdle. They seemed destined never again to repeat their 1916-17 league triumph.

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