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New book lists top 100 Maltese footballers

The Gzira National Stadium.

The Gzira National Stadium.

Publications containing rows of data and other information about all sorts of activities have always ranked high in popularity with book collectors.

Carmel Baldacchino's Hundred of the Best is a book that has all the ingredients to give it the same degree of success as the previous 13 published by the former RAF serviceman who has dedicated half his life to Maltese football history research.

The countless hours he spent over the years at the National Library have borne fruit as his books are today considered an essential reference for both sports journalists and promoters of the local game. Mr Baldacchino's research has also filtered into academic studies, with anthropology students at the University of Malta making use of his work.

There is hardly any other research into Maltese football as profound and detailed as that of Mr Baldacchino, an electrical engineering instructor with the Education Division.

Some of his studies go back to the days when a rope hanging across two sticks used to serve as goalposts at a time when no specific set of rules were in force. That's some time around 1870.

Mr Baldacchino, 58, first tried his luck as a footballer in his teens. He had little success on the field of play. Having decided to hang up his boots, he developed a keen interest in Maltese football history.

One of his most extensive publications is the Goals, Cups and Tears series which is now in its sixth edition.

Volumes seven and eight have been compiled and are ready for print but plans had to be shelved temporarily as Mr Baldacchino spent the past few months working on a project which, by his own admission, represents a lifetime ambition.

He had long intensified his research work with a view to compiling his best 100 players of all time. The opportunity came along when publishers Progress Press showed interest in printing his book.

"This idea had been lingering at the back of my mind for many years but the right offer to publish the book never came," he said. "Then, last summer, Progress Press put forward an offer which I could not turn down. Choosing the best 100 footballers in Malta was no easy task from all aspects. I had my own research to fall on but, more than ever before, I had to be fair and objective in my selection.

"It was a difficult process and those few who know what it takes to undertake such a project would most appreciate Hundred of the Best. But I'm confident this voluminous book will be another great hit, particularly with football lovers.

"Sales were OK with my other publications but this one should do even better. I have had this feeling from the day I received the go-ahead to begin working on it. The topic is very interesting and should appeal to a wide audience, not only those who love sport.

"Many were those who encouraged me to publish Hundred of the Best, particularly my supportive family. I also saw great interest when I visited relatives to compile more information and obtain pictures of old-time players who have passed away."

Mr Baldacchino's Hundred of the Best is divided into six chapters, each dedicated to players from a particular era. Detailed facts and figures enrich the profile of every player in the 480-page book. All Malta FA Player of the Year award winners since the contest was first introduced in the 1954/55 season make the top 100.

The author said the list consists of those players who, in his opinion, distinguished themselves most during their careers.

"Other football analysts and critics are likely to have a different opinion regarding the top 100 players of all time but I reckon these names are the ones that really left their mark on our football along the years.

"It was hard for me to leave out some players, however. One who readily comes to mind is former Malta international Toninu Camilleri. He was a great striker in the 1970s and scored a string of superb goals during his time with Sliema Wanderers and Gzira United."

For Mr Baldacchino, it is even harder to choose his best player of all time; his list is a chronological one.

"Well, that's a tough one. I read a lot and spoke with many veterans of our game about the subject. Perhaps the ones at the top of my list are Ruggieru Friggieri, the much-travelled player of World War I era, and the great Tony Nicholl who certainly needs no introduction.

"I remember Salvinu Schembri, of Sliema and Valletta, as well. That player had such class. Another one to rank high in my esteem is Eddie Theobald, of Hibernians."

The first player featured in Hundred of the Best is a certain Salvu Samuel who was born in 1892. He kicked his first ball with St Barbara FC and was one of the few who figured for both Floriana and Valletta, bitter rivals in that period.

The 100th player to be profiled is Michael Mifsud. The talented, nippy forward is now playing his football in Norway for Lillestrom after starting his career with Sliema. A few years back, Mr Mifsud also had a spell with Kaiserslautern in the German Bundesliga.

Mr Baldacchino is a regular contributor to The Times. His widely-read column, Shadows From The Past, has been published weekly since 1994 and has now reached its 541st edition. Between 1991 and 1993, Mr Baldacchino also had a column, Windows Through History, in The Sunday Times.

Hundred of the Best will be launched during the Book Fair at the Trade Fair Grounds, in Naxxar, between today and Sunday.

Mr Baldacchino will be at the Progress Press stand to sign copies tomorrow between 7 - 8 p.m. During the three days of the Book Fair, some of the players featured in the book will also be in attendance to sign autographs.

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