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Agile keeper stands out in difficult war period

Joseph Spiteri, Iz-Zabu (standing, centre), is seen in this picture wearing the goalkeeper`s jersey of the Coast Guards RMA in 1945.

Joseph Spiteri, Iz-Zabu (standing, centre), is seen in this picture wearing the goalkeeper`s jersey of the Coast Guards RMA in 1945.

With the death of Joseph Spiteri on July 26, 2006 at the age of 85, another link with the immediate post-war era of Maltese football went missing.

Iz-Zabu was one of the best goalkeepers before and immediately after the end of the Second World War. It was a time of rebuilding for Maltese football and as such, Spiteri could be described as one of those players who kept the game going during one of the most difficult periods of its history.

Spiteri was born on November 20, 1920 in Valletta. He was always passionate about football as he himself told me when I interviewed him at his home in Bugibba way back in 1993. It was a passion which stayed with him all his life.

Even then, his 70-year-old memory was still fresh and bubbling with football memories.

He always wanted to be a goalkeeper. In 1936, as a raw 16-year-old, he joined Valletta Youngsters. From the start, Spiteri displayed sure signs of goalkeeping skills and bravery way beyond his tender age. Inevitably, he was marked for the future by all those who saw him in action.

With his help, the Youngsters reached the Junior Cup final where they lost 0-1 to the Tigers. From then on, however, it was one straight climb to the top for Spiteri.

After a short spell with Valletta St Paul's in the Second Division, he joined Valletta Prestons. At the time, they were still languishing in the Fourth Division.

Spiteri gave the Prestons that much-needed steadiness at the back and the club was soon climbing the league ladder.

In season 1939-40, Valletta Prestons won the Second Division title and the right to play in the top division of Maltese Football. The war, however, interrupted all their plans and Spiteri had to wait until 1943 before he could achieve his life-long ambition of playing top-class football. During this season, however, he played a game in the First Division for Melita FC.

In 1943, Valletta Prestons and Valletta St Paul's were caught in the middle of the re-organisation plans of the Malta FA.

The association introduced what was known then as the District Representation Scheme, forcing clubs from the same district to amalgamate. It was during this period that Valletta St Paul's and Valletta Prestons decided to form the new club, Valletta FC.

Things worked out well for Valletta and between 1943 and 1946, Spiteri formed part of the great City team which dominated Maltese football in the 40s.

With the Citizens, he won two league championships, one Cup and one Cassar Cup medals. During this period he also played for the all-conquering 2HAA Regiment RMA and the Pick RMA XI.

At the end of the 1945-46 season, he decided that he needed a change and, much to the dismay of the City supporters, he left Valletta and joined Hibernians. He stayed with Hibs for two years before he got the 'emigration bug' and left Malta for the United Kingdom at the end of the 1947-48 season.

Spiteri was one of the most popular players of his era. Slight of body, he was quick and agile and was noted for the spectacular way he saved penalties.

For the record

Joseph Spiteri's roll of honour

League championship: Valletta FC - 1944-45, 1945-46.

Cup: Valletta FC -1943-44.

Cassar Cup: Valletta FC - 1943-44.

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