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Nicholl's unrivalled achievement

Sliema Wanderers, winners of the 1939-40 FA Trophy. Tony Nicholl scored 15 goals in just four matches.

Sliema Wanderers, winners of the 1939-40 FA Trophy. Tony Nicholl scored 15 goals in just four matches.

Tony Nicholl's career was long and brilliant and, in certain aspects, it even compares favourably with that of top international players.

During the long years he played in the famous blue of Sliema Wanderers, he won a cartload of honours and broke every scoring record in sight.

However, in my opinion, his best ever showing came in the 1939-40 FA Trophy. That season Nicholl not only led the Blues to another FA Trophy success but he also scored 15 goals in four matches in the process, a record no other Maltese player has come near to beating.

The 1939-40 FA Trophy was played on the brink of the Second World War. In the past, the British Services declined many invitations from the MFA to take part in the competition. In 1940, however, the British authorities were prepared to bend backwards in an attempt to keep the morale of the population high.

Eight service teams accepted the MFA's invitation to take part. They were seeded in the first round. This resulted in a series of attractive pairings of civilian and service teams.

The competition kicked off in the first week of April 1940 when Sliema Wanderers beat the RMA 4-1.

Nicholl scored all four of Sliema's goals that day. Then, in the quarter-finals, the Wanderers faced the Anti-Tank Regiment. It was a sad afternoon for the Blues. Early that morning the news circulated around Sliema that Teddy Holland, the one-time centre-forward and Sliema Wanderers FC secretary, had died suddenly at the age of 34. The Wanderers were shocked to hear about the death of this great sportsman and leading scorer of the 1920s.

The Wanderers, therefore, faced the Anti-Tank Regiment with a vengeance. They beat the military team 10-1, as if to honour the memory of their late colleague. Nicholl helped himself to six of the goals, the others coming from his striking partner, Maurice DeCesare.

The revelation team of the competition that year were Valletta St Paul's. Their enthusiasm saw them through a tricky quarter-final against the Devonshire Regiment.

Inside-right Borg scored four times in a memorable 5-1 victory.

St Paul's relied on the same formation that had played so well against the Devons when they met Sliema in the semis. The Wanderers, however, were a different proposition and they quickly exposed their opponents' weaknesses in defence.

St Paul's had no one capable of stopping Nicholl.

The result was that he rammed in five goals before half-time. Bond made the score 6-0 and then the Blues eased up, allowing St Paul's to score two consolation goals through Dowling and Borg.

At this point, the referee dismissed DeCesare and Gili for fighting but before the final whistle Sliema scored another goal for a resounding 7-2 victory.

St George's were still feeling the effects of three strenuous matches against the Dorsetshire Regiment when they met holders Melita in the other semi-final on May 19.

Melita won 1-0 to earn the right to face Sliema in the final the following weekend.

Disappointing final

The final fell way short of expectations. It was a most disappointing game, slow, uneventful and of a low technical standard.

A mistake by left-back Wenzu Mizzi, who played the ball with his hand in the penalty area, enabled DeCesare to open the scoring from a penalty for the Wanderers.

Nicholl did not score in this match but minutes later, a masterly pass on the turn by the maestro found DeCesare unmarked. The latter brushed past Zarb and beat goalkeeper Formosa with a left footer.

Before the end of the first half, Bond deflected a cross from the right to put Sliema 3-0 up.

In the second half, Sliema opted to sit back, letting Melita to do most of the running. They controlled the situation well however, at least up to the 77th minute when Martin pulled a goal back for the Amateurs.

Melita made one last desperate effort to save the game and a few minutes later they were awarded for their efforts when Borg finished off with a good header.

With the score 3-2, Melita pooled their remaining forces for a last-ditch assault but there was no time left. They had to surrender the trophy which they had won so convincingly the previous year.

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