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Sliema call in the doctor

A smiling Frankie Busuttil posing with the Johnnie Walker Cup. The good doctor was brought stealthily to Malta to help beat Floriana and win the 1925-26 League Championship.

In 1925 the Malta Football Association (MFA) negotiated a deal with the importers of the famous Johnnie Walker Whiskey to sponsor the League Championship.

Apart from providing financial backing, the company donated a cup to be held by the champions for one year. The famous Johnnie Walker Cup was born and it became an integral part of the league campaign well into the 1980’s.

The 1925-26 League Championship was kicked off on November 15, 1925 with the game between Sliema Wanderers and Msida Rovers.

Sliema overwhelmed Msida with a 9-0 victory which left absolutely no question about the strength or otherwise of the two teams. George Rule, Archie Caunter, Calleja, Scerri, Bertie Busuttil and Pisani all helped themselves to a goal, while Teddy Holland helped himself to the others.

In those days, the Blues had perhaps the best forward line in their history. In their next game they beat Sliema Rangers 5-0 and then went on to beat St George’s with the same score. The Wanderers’ next victims were Valletta United who were beaten 3-1.

A blunder by the MFA was responsible for the game between Sliema and Valletta Rovers being abandoned. The Council chose as the referee Mr Armitage who was also Sliema’s trainer. The game was started but was abandoned when the referee gave a penalty against Valletta. The Rovers immediately walked left the pitch and refused to continue.

In the circumstances one could hardly blame them. The MFA continued to administer its peculiar brand of justice by awarding Sliema the points and disbanding the Rovers!

Floriana opened their league campaign with a 3-0 victory over Sliema Rangers and then continued with a 2-0 win over St George’s.

The Saints protested that the referee was not the original one appointed and that he was changed without consultation and without their acceptance. St George’s won their case and the match was replayed on Sunday, January 22, 1926.

The Saints made good use of their second chance and in a keen and tough game they held Floriana to a 1-1 draw. For the first time since 1908, in a match with Floriana, carrier pigeons trailing the colours of St George’s carried the good news to Cospicua.

This loss of a point put the Greens at a disadvantage in respect to Sliema, but they quickly recovered lost ground. They beat Valletta Rovers 3-0, Msida Rovers 4-0 and Valletta United 3-2. This series of victories took them to within a point of the league leaders.

The 1925-26 season did not start so well for Sliema Wanderers.

Their star centre-forward, Doctor Frankie Busuttil left the island for Palermo to continue his studies. During his stay in Palermo, Frankie played some matches for the local team.

Sliema had a fine team but without the doctor, Floriana seemed to have the edge over their opponents.

On the day of the game with Floriana, Sliema had a surprise up their sleeves. A day before the big match, Busuttil was brought secretly back to Malta. Floriana were dismayed to see that he was included in the team.

Frankie Busuttil could not have had a happier return to the island.

After 15 minutes he scored Sliema’s first goal with an excellent shot which was greeted by vociferous cheering and the waving of blue flags. Within less than four minutes the doctor netted the ball again and this time pigeons were released.

A quarter of an hour into the second half, Busuttil completed his hat-trick. However, for a time, the Greens seemed to be gaining on the blues but at the half-hour Pisani scored his side’s fourth goal. Floriana were stunned! A 4-1 defeat was bad enough, but to come against Sliema was more than any true Floriana supporter could stomach.

Towards the end of the game tempers rose and the referee had to send off two players, one from each team. After the match Sliema became the first team to write their names on the famous ‘Johnnie Walker Cup’.

That day the festivities went on well into the night in Sliema, in contrast to Floriana which looked like a graveyard. Sliema’s hero was naturally Frankie Busuttil and when the time came for him to go back to Palermo hundreds of supporters followed his ship up to the breakwater on board the Golly. This small ship operated between Malta and Gozo. A band played and petards were let off. This expedition very nearly ended in disaster when an Italian ship which was about to enter the Grand Harbour nearly collided with the Golly.

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