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First recognised centre-half in Floriana's history

Guzeppi Mallia

Guzeppi Mallia

Guzeppi Mallia, known as 'in-Nippi', was born in Hamrun some time around 1885.

From a very early age, he started to play for Floriana, forming part of the great team which swept all before them at the start of organised football in Malta.

Mallia was the first recognised centre-half in the history of Floriana FC. He played in that memorable match of 1909 against St George's as well as in many other Challenge Cup and charity matches against top service teams.

Mallia, who also took part in the first league competition that was held in 1910 at the Lyceum ground in Marsa, was widely regarded as a fine centre-half... tough but calm and fair.

In those days, the centre-half position was different to what it is today. In fact, the role resembled that of a modern-day central midfielder. The centre-half was expected to attack when his team pushed forward and to get back in defence whenever the team came under pressure.

The result was that the centre-half had to be the fittest player in the team and also versatile and skilful. It was a position which disappeared from football with the introduction of the 'Third Back Game' in the 1930s by Herbert Chapman, the great Arsenal manager.

It must have been wonderful to watch the centre-half in action in those early days and the Maltese game has produced its fair share of great players in that role.

Who could ever forget the great Gejtu Psaila, Il-Hacca, of Hamrun Spartans and Floriana, or his contemporary, Archie Caunter of Sliema Wanderers?

Sleek and slender, Mallia cut a very fine figure with his Kaiser-style moustache that was quite in fashion in those days. He could also defend and attack like the best of them besides being a great sportsman as were most of the footballers of his era.

Mallia won the admiration of friend and foe alike with his all-out endeavour on the field of play.

During his career, he played against some of the best centre-forwards at the time, including British professionals who turned out for the Services.

His tussles with Guzè Tagliaferro, of St George's, are legendary and Mallia always claimed that Tagliaferro was the best centre-forward he had ever met.

Between 1909 and 1913, Mallia won three league championships and two cup medals for Floriana.

In season 1914-15, Floriana did not form their team and Mallia was free to join his home club Hamrun Spartans.

As the records for this period are very sketchy, we know very little about Mallia's spell with the Spartans except that in season 1917-18 he helped the team win the league title.

Mallia also played for Senglea Shamrocks in the 1912 cup competition and for Msida Rangers in 1914-15 when Floriana were not taking part.

Mallia was an honest player and although he was born in Hamrun, he always remained loyal to Floriana. He was also a prominent member of the famous KOMRM team of the World War One era.

In 1910, when the first League Championship was held, he was already in his late 20s.

His competitive career was short but distinguished. Mallia retired in 1918 and died in 1950.

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