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Strong full-back distinguishes himself against Services teams

Johnnie Edwards seen here in the colours of the Constitutionals when the Paola club won the Amateur Championship in 1930-31. (Left to right) Victor Miller, Amaira, Johnnie Edwards. (Middle row) Manche, Turu Theobald, Rogantin Pisani, Eddie Miller, Carmelo Gauci. (Front row) Leli Farrugia, Noni Formosa, George West, Tommy Apps, Xerri.

Johnnie Edwards seen here in the colours of the Constitutionals when the Paola club won the Amateur Championship in 1930-31. (Left to right) Victor Miller, Amaira, Johnnie Edwards. (Middle row) Manche, Turu Theobald, Rogantin Pisani, Eddie Miller, Carmelo Gauci. (Front row) Leli Farrugia, Noni Formosa, George West, Tommy Apps, Xerri.

The Edwards family, at least as far as I could ascertain, came from Cottonera. They were a large working class family, tough and boisterous like most others of their era.

The Edwards family produced three fine footballers - George, Johnnie and Harry. The latter passed away quite recently.

Tall and strong, with a shot which could bring down a brick wall... these were the ingredients which made a good full-back in the era of Johnnie Edwards. Il-Bovju was strong as an ox, a good defender and he could tackle anything that moves.

He started playing football in the Amateur League with the Constitutionals of Paola. In 1931, when the club turned professional and changed its name to Hibernians FC, he formed part of one of the strongest defences on the island.

He stayed with Hibernians for four seasons. During this early period of his career, he took part in many prestigious matches including the classic 1934 Cassar Cup semi-final against HMS Royal Sovereign.

For eight long years the Services had foiled the civilians' efforts to win the Cassar Cup. For the Maltese this was nothing short of a national disaster. In 1934, the Cheshire Regiment and HMS Royal Sovereign represented the Services.

During their three-year stay in Malta, the Cheshire Regiment established a reputation as cup fighters, a billing enhanced by their Army Cup triumphs of 1932 and 1933.

However, they failed to live up to their name when they met Sliema Wanderers in the semi-finals of the 1934 Cassar Cup. Sliema won an exciting game 4-2 to reach the final.

Hibs had to meet HMS Royal Sovereign three times before they finally beat the sailors to reach the final for the first time in their history and ensure that the Cassar Cup would go to a Maltese club.

This encounter has since been written in letters of gold in the annals of Maltese football. The first game ended in a 0-0 draw. The replay produced another 1-1 draw but the third game, which drew an estimated crowd of over 16,000 spectators to the stadium, finished in a 2-0 victory for Hibernians.

Johnnie Edwards distinguished himself in these games. His performances stood out more against opponents renowned for their physical strength and 'never say die' spirit. Those memorable encounters made him a star overnight and from then on he was wooed and feted by the major clubs of the island who vied openly for his signature.

In 1936 he accompanied Floriana as a guest player on their tour of Algiers.

During this period, St George's were strengthening their team in a bid to win back some of their past glories. They left no stone unturned in their effort to bolster the squad and one of their first moves was to sign Johnnie Edwards as a professional. His salary of £12 a month was a record for those times.

Peak form

Strengthened with foreign players of the calibre of Puschmann, Frisch, Drucker and Taggart, the Saints had a very strong team but the anticipated success never came and the next season Edwards joined Sliema Wanderers.

With Sliema, he reached his peak. In two years he won two championship and two Cassar Cup medals.

In 1939-40 he rejoined St George's, but an injury cut short his career and had to stop.

In 1946 he was persuaded by Naxxar Lions to make a comeback. Together with veterans Pawlu and Censu Friggieri he helped the Lions to win promotion for the first time in their history.

The sojourn at Naxxar seemed to give a new life to the old warhorse and during the next two seasons he turned out for his old clubs Hibernians and Sliema.

He died suddenly in October 1954 when still in the best of life.

Edwards will always be remembered for his great strength and courage. During his career he was chosen six times to play for the MFA XI.

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