In 1944, His Excellency the Governor General, Sir Edmund Schreiber launched a scheme for the provision of recreational facilities for the Maltese islands. He appealed to all public-spirited people to come forward and help him.
A council made up of citizens prominent in various spheres of society was set up.
Captain Serafino Xuereb, the head of a well-known firm of building contractors, and a keen sportsman had just won a government contract to clear the war rubble of Cottonera. The Captain who, at the time was also the president of Hibernians FC, came up with the idea of using the rubble to build a retaining wall around a low hill in Paola to turn it into a football ground.
The Captain’s proposal was accepted by the government and the Schreiber Sports Ground was born and for the next 50 years the ground served Maltese football as the understudy of the Stadium, and the Ta’ Qali National Stadium.
My earliest football recollection dates back to the first days of the Schreiber when, as a three-year old, I watched thousands of spectators swarming up the steep staircase of the ground and I can still vividly remember the Captain in his reserved seat in the tiny enclosure proudly watching his sons, Joseph and Lawrence playing football for Hibernians in the Third Division League.
The Schreiber Sports Ground was inaugurated on Sunday October 12, 1946 with the Minor League match between Mosta Youngsters and Birżebbuġa St Peter’s.
During that first season, the ground became a bee-hive of activity with matches from the Third Division, During the Forties and early Fifties, the newly built Schreiber Sports Ground was always full of activity. The system of including the reserves of clubs from higher divisions although a bit unfair on the youngsters helped to improve the standard of Maltese football.
In the Forties, Hibernians and St George’s had a very strong Third Division team.
In 1946-47, they won their respective section and then met in the final of the championship deciders.
Hibs won Section A after beating Valletta’s third team in a decider.
Section B was won by Melita’s third team after they beat their compatriots from Ħamrun 2-0 in another decider.
St George’s III won Section C with very little bother and Balzan Youths won Section D after a tough battle with Senglea Reserves. Therefore, Balzan were the only bone-fide Third Division team to qualify for the championship play-offs.
Hibernians defeated Balzan Youths 2-1 in the semi-finals of the play-offs. St George’s on their part won their semi-final 2-0 against the third team of Melita.
In the final, St George’s beat Hibs 1-0 after three replays which ended in 0-0, 1-1 and 0-0 draws. These encounters sparked off one of the biggest rivalries in the history of the game in Malta.
This rivalry was increased ten-fold when the two neighbours fought their way to the Third Division Cup final.
This game was played on June 22, 1947 in front of one of the biggest crowds ever assembled at the Schreiber.
Hibs had an ace up their sleeves. Against all expectations they included in their ranks, Micallef, Vella, Agius and Demanuele of Floriana Ajax who, it was claimed, had obtained the necessary release papers from their club.
Of course, no one believed that Floriana had released these four future stars permanently. It was a wrangle and no one was fooled.
Hibs won 1-0 but their rejoicing was short-lived because St George’s won a protest against the result and the cup had to be returned to Hibs’ eternal rivals.
This controversial match created a huge outcry in Cottonera. Groups of people were seen discussing the outcome of the encounter and the ensuing protest. Rivalry in football often has a positive effect but this time it ended in tragedy.
On July 4, 1947, around 10 pm a group of people in Pjazza Gravino Gulia in Cospicua were discussing the outcome of the Third Division final.
A heated argument took place between Ċensu Ellul and Pawlu Muscat in the course of which someone punched Muscat.
Muscat reported the incident to the Police claiming that he was afraid of Ellul and his brother Ġużeppi. A few hours later, Muscat returned to the group who were still arguing about the game. Suddenly he took out a knife and stabbed at Ġużeppi Ellul who died on his way to hospital.
Muscat was tried and found guilty of this crime and received 18 years hard labour. This was the only time that a murder was committed in conjunction with a football match in Malta.
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