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1962-63 - an exceptional season for Valletta FC

Valletta FC captain Edwin Schembri (left) exchanging mementoes with the Rijeka skipper before a Christmas Tourney match played on December 30, 1962 at the Gzira stadium. Looking on is referee Ritchie Casha.

Valletta FC captain Edwin Schembri (left) exchanging mementoes with the Rijeka skipper before a Christmas Tourney match played on December 30, 1962 at the Gzira stadium. Looking on is referee Ritchie Casha.

Season 1962-63 was an exceptional one for Valletta FC and, especially so, for their evergreen captain Edwin Schembri.

Born in Cospicua on November 2, 1929, Schembri started his career with Little Rainbows in 1944 and when the club from Tarxien amalgamated with Hibernians in 1947 he made his First Division debut in the Paolites' colours.

In 1955, Schembri was transferred to Valletta FC where he soon developed into one of the best left-backs of his era.

By 1962-63, Schembri was in the twilight of a long and successful career. That season, however, was to be the best of his career.

Although already a veteran with over 190 league appearances behind him, he was the inspiration behind Valletta's successful season.

In the league, Schembri led the Lilywhites to their third championship in five seasons and the final of the Olympic Cup.

Schembri then capped a memorable season by winning the coveted Footballer of the Year award, a feat that has eluded many players with more illustrious pretensions.

Season 1962-63 was indeed another golden period in the history of Valletta FC.

Despite starting the campaign without the services of Joe 'Ginger' Zammit, who was about to emigrate for Australia, Valletta opened the season on a top note, beating St George's and Hibernians.

Then, after their fine start, Valletta stumbled. They lost to Sliema Wanderers and dropped another precious point against Hamrun Spartans.

Gloom descended on the City camp, but two resounding 6-0 victories over Birkirkara and big rivals Floriana revitalised their morale.

By Christmas time, when the league was stopped for the Christmas Tourney, it was the Wanderers who were doing all the running but the end of the first round saw Valletta within striking distance.

Rijeka were the 10th Yugoslav club to visit the island since the legendary Hajduks of 1925.

They were a comparatively new club, founded only in 1940. Rijeka were a good side, winning three of their four matches in Malta. They beat Hibs and Floriana 5-0 and 4-1 respectively and lost 2-1 to Sliema Wanderers.

Valletta put up a good show against the visitors. Although losing, the Lilywhites were only beaten by two late goals from Mogosca and Zadel.

By the end of the tourney, the City machine was clicking merrily and the deciding league match against the Wanderers was eagerly awaited by the public.

The game turned out to be the most thrilling and exciting match of the season.

This clash had everything. Thrills, excitement, great goalkeeping, and, unfortunately, detest-able scenes of hooliganism.

Valletta won 1-0 to jump to the top of the league table, the all-important goal coming only minutes from the final whistle.

At the end of the match, delighted Valletta supporters bulldozed their way past the police cordon to carry their players shoulder-high off the pitch.

The City supporters harassed the Sliema players who were still on the field. Angry Sliema fans jumped the wire in defence of their players and soon the water-hoses were in action.

They were first directed at the 'no man's land' between the Valletta and Sliema ends.

Stones and other missiles rained down on the police and the hoses were directed at the Sliema end.

Rowdy Citizens

Finally, the police picked up enough courage to aim the hoses at the Valletta supporters who, one must say, did not care a dime about it and actually seemed to enjoy it!

These scenes worthy of the worst South American traditions, tended to overshadow the match itself and made one forget a most enjoyable encounter.

Hibernians now assumed the role of chief challengers to Valletta.

Only a point separated the two teams. Valletta, however, were in no mood to dish out favours. They won all their remaining matches to carry off the Johnnie Walker Cup to the capital for the third time in five years.

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