1970-71 was the best season in the history of Marsa FC.
Being newly promoted from the Second Division, they were not considered favourites for the honours.
The Red-Blues, however, surprised everyone with their enthusiastic and rather, skillful football and at the end, they only just missed winning the championship.
Marsa started with a surprising but fully deserved 3-0 victory over Valletta.
This was only the start, and as the season progressed, they established themselves as the main challengers for the championship.
Their star forwards ‘Faqi’ Farrugia and Reggie Portelli proving themselves a constant headache to opposing defences.
The weekly league table always had a strange look about it. Marsa, Gżira and Sliema at the top and the more fancied Floriana, Hibs and Valletta lurking close to the bottom.
The league table on Monday, October 26, 1970 showed Gżira leading with maximum points while Marsa were behind them with two points from one game.
Sliema were in third place and at the other end of the table Hibs and Valletta languished without any points from two matches.
This situation remained unchanged for most of the season. The race for the championship was restricted between the top three clubs, but Hibs, after a disastrous first round, came back with a bang in a late effort to slip past the leaders.
Marsa could have sealed the issue in their favour on Saturday, April 4, when they met Gżira United.
A victory for the Red-Blues would have placed them in an unassailable position. This was an exciting affair played at break-neck speed and with complete equilibrium on both fronts.
In the first half, Gżira did a great amount of pressing. There was a great tussle for the ball in midfield but referee Joe Cassar Naudi with shrill blasts of his whistle and some entertaining theatricals, kept a tight grip on the game from start to finish.
In the second half, in a counter-attack, Grech scored for Gżira.
Eyes on the prize
A minute later, Accarino sent in a perfect corner from which Mallia equalised.
Scenting the chance of grabbing the prize, Marsa went forward in search of the all-important goal.
Gżira held fast, but Marsa could have won the match with the last kick of the game. The ball ran to ‘Majsi’ Brincat who smashed in a great shot against the upright.
This result left Sliema and Marsa level on points with only one match left to be played. Marsa seemed to have the better chance. They had only to beat Żebbuġ Rangers while Sliema had a tough match against Hibernians.
The two deciding matches were played on Wednesday, April 7.
Marsa, as expected, beat Żebbuġ 2-1 but the other match was a complete fiasco.
Before the start of the Sliema-Hibs encounter, the Marsa supporters made merry.
They already considered themselves champions.
After all, even if Sliema beat Hibs they would only force a decider. How naive can one be!
Imagine their dismay when Hibs took the field with their reserves. Sliema could not have had it easier. They won 2-0 in a match which brought disgrace to Maltese football.It was a travesty of the game which went unnoticed by the MFA. Hibs even left out Freddie Mizzi who had not suffered a goal in the last seven matches. One can only guess what happened. To cut a long story short, Sliema won the decider 3-0.
The Blues, relying on half a century of tradition, rose to the occasion to win another championship and destroy Marsa’s dream of glory.
The Red-Blues never again came so close to winning one of the major trophies.
The decider was certainly not a classic but the big crowd present was served with a tough battle full of thrills and incidents.
Sliema, as expected, made the early running. They made use of the space created by Camilleri’s withdrawal into midfield and they began to force the pace with Lawrence Borg’s fast overlaps.
Marsa withstood this early pressure and for a while they took the war into their opponents’ area, but the game took a different turn when Sliema opened the score.
Ronnie Cocks beat Tonna and passed to Eric Schembri to head grandly into the net.
To their credit, Marsa tried to recover from this set-back but as time wore on panic began to creep in their playmaking it easier for the Blues’ defence to cover up.
Then, Sliema scored again and the game was over bar the shouting.
A Cocks’ corner-kick fell to the unmarked Vincent Vassallo who hammered in past goalkeeper Collings.
It was now all over and within two minutes Sliema struck again.
Once again Ronnie Cocks was the architect of the move which led to the goal.
Cocks created the opening for Falzon who running like a two-year-old hammered the ball into the net.