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Malta FA’s blunder hands the title to Sliema Wanderers

Hibernians FC 1932-33: Victor Miller, Harry Edwards, Johnnie Edwards, Andrea Cilia, Turu Theobald, Carmelo Gauci, Eddie Miller, Emanuel Manche, Wenzu Mizzi, Leli Farrugia, Noni Formosa, W. Honey, S. Busuttil, Mifsud.

Before the start of the 1932-33 League Championship, two qualification matches were played to decide which teams would join Sliema Wanderers and Ħamrun Spartans in the First Division.

Sliema Rangers were drawn to meet Vittoriosa United, while Hibernians had to play against Pietà United.

Sliema Rangers and Vittoriosa United were old league campaigners but Hibs and Pietà were making their first attempt to join the league.            

There is very little to be said about this game. Hibs were better-trained and more experienced than Pietà. The 5-0 scoreline did not flatter Hibernians at all.

The Paolites, therefore, joined the league and went on to become one of the leading clubs on the island.

Pietà United were disbanded and had to wait until 1934 before the team was reformed under the name of Pietà Hotspurs.

The distinction of scoring the first goal of the 1932-33 league championship fell to Sliema Rangers. This advantage however was not enough to give them victory over Hibernians. The Paolites won 3-1 to take temporary leadership of the table.

With only four teams in the competition, when Sliema defeated the Spartans 2-0, the race for the title was restricted to two teams.

Hibernians stepped up their challenge by beating the Spartans 3-0.

Sliema Wanderers replied with a 7-1 victory over their neighbours Sliema Rangers.

Everything now depended on the game between the two leaders. The match was played on Sunday, March 26.

The young and inexperienced Hibs’ forwards were not awed by the occasion. They ran after every ball, stretching the Wanderers to the limit.

However, Sliema’s experience told and their defence nearly always managed to cope with the situation.

Sliema scored first when Azzopardi lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Harry Edwards.

Hibs were jolted by this goal but before the end of the first half, ‘Gili’ Farrugia scored a deserved equaliser.

During the second half, both teams created many scoring chances but the final whistle found the scoreline still locked at 1-1 and a championship decider was necessary.

The decider was fixed for Sunday, April 9.

Hibs were not happy with this date because two of their best players, Wenzu Mizzi and Sid Le Count were away from the island serving with the Navy.

They asked the MFA to change the date but the Council refused.

Under the circumstances, the MFA should have heeded Hibs’ plea but the Council, ordered the Paola club to play on the proposed date.

Hibernians presented medical certificates showing that seven of their players were ill and therefore could not make up a team.

Still the Council refused to listen and without much deliberation declared Sliema Wanderers champions by virtue of a walkover.

Barrage of abuse

This decision did not go down well with the majority of the public and the MFA was caught in a barrage of abuse. The newspapers were all for Hibernians and many accused the MFA of favouring the Wanderers.

The MFA was caught in a corner and it was forced to reverse its decision.

The Council decided that the game would be replayed but Hibs were forbidden to make use of Le Count and Mizzi in the replay.

This step was described by the Malta Chronicle as sheer injustice or incompetence because there was no reason why these two players should be penalised simply because they happened to be away with the Navy.

The representatives of the two clubs were called before the Council and someone proposed that the clubs should play a match for a silver cup to decide the matter of supremacy.

It was suggested that Sliema Wanderers, as the senior club, would keep the Johnnie Walker Cup.

Hibernians sportingly, but rather foolishly, saved the Council’s face by accepting this strange proposal.

Thus, Sliema became the first club in the history of football to win a championship by virtue of a walkover.

This match, which was scheduled for Sunday April 23, was destined to end in trouble. The atmosphere at the ground was electrifying and there was bad blood among the players.

In the first half Sliema built up a two-goal lead which continued to raise the temper of the Hibs’ supporters.

In the 60th minute Sliema’s Micallef, during a goalmouth scrimmage, charged and knocked out Edwards, the Hibs’ goalkeeper.

This angered the crowd and a number of them started to insult Micallef every time he touched the ball.

On one occasion Micallef called a policeman for satisfaction, but hardly had he done so that tempers became more frayed and a riot started. Spectators jumped into the field and attacked the players.

Edwards dashed across the field to hit Micallef in retaliation for the earlier incident. Groups of frenzied spectators, wildly hitting out at everything and everybody in sight, transformed the pitch into a battlefield.

This incident sparked off a great rivalry between the two clubs which remained active for many years until it reached its peak in the Fifties when two Hibs’ supporters were tragically killed in a bomb explosion. But that is another story.

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