Janos Bedl's poor debut for Sliema
On Sunday, September 13, 1964 Sliema Wanderers met Dynamo Bucharest in the European Champions Cup. Parading their new player-coach, Janos Bedl, the Wanderers went into the match in an upbeat mood.
They prepared well for the encounter and since their opponents were more or less unknown in Malta, Sliema were confident of enhancing their reputation against foreigners with another positive result.
The Sliema section inside the stadium was decorated for the occasion. Fireworks were let off as the Blues, sporting a new outfit, trooped out of their dressing room. For all the enthusiasm in the stands, the locals looked uninspired on the field of play.
The game was barely four minutes old when Dynamo silenced the crowd with the first goal of the afternoon. This early setback demoralised the Wanderers who lost all the poise and confidence that made them worthy champions the previous season.
Sliema disappointed their supporters, and that is putting it mildly. They had a fine team in those days and fully deserved to win the championship.
Yet, against the Romanians, they gave a poor show. Most of the Blues' players had an off day but the biggest disappointment was Janos Bedl.
I remember going to the stadium just to see him play. In those days, foreign players in Malta were rare and Bedl's signing created quite a stir. He generated a lot of interest but his performance on his debut was so poor that Sliema asked him to concentrate only on coaching. They would not regret the decision.
Under his guidance, Sliema developed into the best team on the island, winning the lion's share of domestic honours during his reign.
Bedl introduced Sliema to the new 4-2-4 system which, in those days, was very much in vogue in Europe.
It was apparent, however, that the players were unaccustomed to this approach and most of them seemed bewildered by their new roles.
Dynamo were fitter and technically superior to the Wanderers.
Their best players were captain Nunweiller III, and wingers Pircalab and Nunweiller VI.
Midfielder Popescu was Dynamo's chief source of inspiration. The Romanian international was the first to catch the eye when, in the very first minute, he forced his way through but mis-kicked when at full gallop.
However, the Romanians were soon in front. Ene put in a hard drive from 20 yards, Debono seemed to have the ball covered but failed to grasp and Fratila was on hand to hit in.
Many expected Sliema to stage a reaction but they simply could not get going. Dynamo pressed for more and in the 41st minute, Nunweiller VI made it 2-0 with a 30-yard bombshell.
Changing ends two goals ahead, the visitors eased off and played the second half at walking pace. Sliema started the half well and for a while looked threatening but they soon faded out completely, leaving the Romanians with an easy passage into the second round.
The return match in Bucharest was a repetition of the first leg.
Sliema lost 0-5 but this time they had a valid excuse for their negative performance. The travelling arrangements between Belgrade and Bucharest were so primitive that the party arrived in the Romanian capital worn out and out of condition.
Watermelons to eat
At one time, the players and officials had to spend the night in a station in the wilderness of the Romanian countryside. They spent the night sitting on stools without food and with only watermelons to quench their thirst.
Connections at Kikkinda and Jimbolja were hours late and the party arrived in Bucharest only a few hours before the match.
In Bucharest, things improved but the team was in no condition to play football. All in all, considering the ordeal the players had to go through, the result was perhaps not as bad as it seemed on paper.
For the record
September 13, 1964 - The Empire Stadium, Gzira
European Champions Cup - first leg
Sliema Wanderers vs Dynamo Bucharest 0-2
Sliema: A. Debono, L. Falzon, J. Aquilina, G. Cuschieri, S. Bonnici, R. Buttigieg, R. Cocks, J. Bedl, J. Cini, E. Aquilina, V. Vassallo.
Dynamo Bucharest: Datcu, Popa, Stefan, Petru, Nunweiller III, Nunweiller IV, Pircalab, Ene, Fratila, Popescu, Nunweiller VI.
Scorers: Fratila, Nunweiller VI.
Referee: Sig. Sbardella (Italy).