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Sliema Wanderers return to the top-flight of Maltese football in 1983-84

Sliema Wanderers 1983-84. Back: Edward Zammit, Martin Gregory, Anthony Tabone, Tony Formosa, Carlos Cluett, John Buttigieg, Joe Gatt, Edwin Gauci. Front: Michael Taliana, Oliver Losco, Simon Tortell, Charles Sciberras, Leli Fabri, Joe Grech, Stephen Theuma, Mario Gauci, John Caruana, Tonio Buhagiar.

1982-83 was by far the worst season in the history of Sliema Wanderers.  The Premier League that season was one of the most uncertain in the history of Maltese football.  Events took place that upset the way things were always done in local football.

It was a season when 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 unfashionable 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 campaign, football in Malta was never the same again.

The season ended with Sliema Wanderers being relegated for the first time in their history. Floriana survived for another season before they suffered the same fate but that is another story.

In 1983-84, the MFA decided to re-organise the league under a new system.

Both the Premier League and the First Division were divided into two phases.

In phase one; the clubs played each other once on a league basis.

The first four clubs then formed the championship pool and the last four the relegation pool. The usual lobbying for points was eliminated by a new rule that permitted only the points won against the other teams in the same pool to be carried over to the second phase.

This ingenious system, a version of which was adopted by FIFA for the 1998 World Cup qualification matches, seemed to be foolproof.

The teams could never be sure which of their opponents would be in their pool in phase two.

Therefore, it stood to reason that they would fight for every point in phase one.

However, other loopholes made the new system less than perfect. Let us just say that the new system did not work so well and the following season it was aborted.

The system however, worked better in the First Division that was very interesting. 

If for nothing else, because of the presence of Sliema Wanderers.

At first, all the games were played at the Marsa Stadium but when the rain season started, so many games were postponed that the competition had to be transferred to the Pace Grasso ground.

In the first phase of the competition, Marsa were the most consistent.  The Red-Blues finished in top place with 10 points, one more than Sliema, Senglea and Tarxien.  Sliema lost against Marsa and Senglea in Phase One but they still finished in second place.

In the Championship Pool, however, they only dropped a point against Senglea and ran away with the championship and a place in the Premier Division.

For Sliema, used as they were to first-class football, this was not much of an achievement.

However, they had the satisfaction of introducing a number of promising youngsters in their squad. Michael Taliana, Joe and Tonio Buhagiar had a bright future in front of them. Marsa finished in second place and were promoted to the top division.

Leli Fabri finished as the division top scorer with 15 goals, while Raymond Vella of Marsa was voted as the best player in the division.

St George’s and Melita dominated the Relegation Pool.

In the end, both teams finished with 13 points leaving Gzira United and Zebbug Rangers in the two relegation positions.

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