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Hibernians FC end 30 years of famine

Hibernians are one of the giants of the local game.

However, up to 1960, they had failed to win a major honour. It seemed that a spell was cast on the club which would never be broken.

This hoodoo was finally broken in season 1960-61 when the Paolites won the championship after a tough battle with Valletta. 

Since then, Hibs have won all the honours that the local game could offer.

In addition, they are the only club apart from Valletta, who have never tasted the bitter dregs of relegation.

In 1960-61, Valletta were hot favourites to retain the championship. Hibs were their hottest challengers but few people were prepared to bet money on them. 

Hibs struggled in their opening match but a goal two minutes from time gave them their first victory. 

In their next two matches they defeated Marsa and St Patrick’s but against the Saints they lost Leli Sultana for the rest of the season with a broken leg.

When Valletta lost a precious point against Marsa, Hibs went for the first time to the top of the table. 

A narrow 1-0 victory over Ħamrun kept them on the trail of the championship but they were lucky to beat St George’s 2-1. 

However, luck deserted them when they needed it most.

Against Valletta, the score stood at 1-1 when Hibs were awarded a penalty. 

Louis Theobald took the kick but he shot straight into the hands of goalkeeper Tommy Taylor.

In the second period, Hibs went into the lead but goals by Cilia and Mario Azzopardi gave Valletta a rather flattering 3-2 victory.

At the halfway stage, Valletta led by a point over Hibernians and Floriana. 

It seemed that Valletta would coast home to another championship victory but in their next match they lost 2-1 to Sliema Wanderers. 

This result should have fired Hibernians but true to character they lost their next match against Floriana. 

However, they were given a second chance when the MFA ordered a replay because Floriana had used goalkeeper Guzi Alamango who was ineligible to play. 

This time Hibs won 1-0.

Two-horse race

It was now a two-horse race. Hibs and Valletta kept winning their matches and everything depended on their direct encounter. 

When the two teams finally faced each other, Valletta still led by a point but Hibs had a match in hand. 

Valletta therefore, needed nothing less than a victory to retain the championship.

No goals were scored in the first half but the second period had a dramatic start. Barely three minutes had passed when Hibs finally broke the deadlock.

Xuereb passed perfectly to Jimmy Mizzi who shot on the turn past Tommy Taylor. Hibs’ half of the Stadium erupted in an orgy of flag waving, chants and whistles.

In contrast, a dead silence fell on the Valletta side. It was not for long, however.

Gradually, Valletta got back into the game and a quarter of an hour later, Azzopardi sneaked past Louis Theobald and Sunny Anastasi to flick the ball into the net for the equaliser.

The scene which followed this goal defies description.

One huge and mighty roar of ‘goal’ echoed around the Stadium and the surrounding streets of Gżira and Msida.

Red and white flags and banners now replaced the black and white colours of Hibernians as the Whites prepared for an all-out assault on the Hibs’ fort in a desperate attempt to score the winning goal.

Their attacks became more frequent and for a time, the only hurdle between Valletta and victory was goalkeeper Freddie Mizzi.

Then, when everything seemed to point towards a Valletta victory, Xuereb robbed Cilia of the ball and passed to Jimmy Mizzi. The Hibs’ danger man failed to connect on his first attempt but then he just managed to slice the ball past Tommy Taylor.

To their credit, Valletta tried everything in their power to get back on level terms but Hibs held on up to the final whistle.

The final incident of note came four minutes from the end when Mizzi brought off a first-class save from a bombshell by Frankie Zammit. Soon after, Italian referee, Marchese blew the whistle and Hibs were champions for the first time in their history.

The scenes at the end of the match were indescribable as hundreds of Hibs’ supporters raced onto the pitch to cheer their heroes. 

Many wept with joy as the championship went to Paola for the first time since the club’s formation in 1931. 

It was also the first time that the championship went to the south of the island since St George’s triumph way back in season 1916-17 at the old Mile End Ground.

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